With tourism becoming an increasingly important part of the local economy, it's time Utah County had a permanent, more visible visitor information center, Travel Council Director Jim Young told county commissioners Wednesday.

Young proposes construction of a new 32,000-square-foot information center adjacent to the County Courthouse. He said the center, located for the past year at 389 N. University, is hard to find, too far from I-15 and offers little or no parking."That value of tourism . . . cannot be overstated," he said. In 1985, Utah County tourism revenues totaled $7.8 million. Hotel and motel room occupancy has increased 23 percent since then, and revenues have likely increased by the same amount, Young said.

"The figures show that a visitor center is needed," he said. Young told commissioners that studies indicate tourists in areas with visitor centers typically stay a half day longer and spend 31 percent more. In Utah County, that translates to $2.7 million annually.

Young said the center is applying for a $150,000 community development block grant from the Mountainlands Association of Governments. The remaining $20,000 needed to build the center would come from the travel council's existing budget.

if Mountainlands approves the grant application, construction could begin in July and be completed by summer's end, Young said.