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Md. opens welcome center at Prime Outlets at Hagerstown

May 16, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- A grand opening was held Thursday for a temporary welcome center that could draw more than 200,000 people off Interstate 70 and into Prime Outlets at Hagerstown.

That's the number of people who visited the welcome center at Myersville, Md., each year before it closed for reconstruction work in April, said Margot A. Amelia, executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. The center off I-70 near Myersville will be closed through September 2009.

The center at Prime Outlets will be open while the Myersville location in closed, and Amelia said it is a destination for anyone who needs directions, brochures, maps or information about tourism in Maryland.

Maryland Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington; Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany; and County Commissioners President John F. Barr attended Thursday's grand opening ceremony. A representative for Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, also attended.

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The welcome center is in the former National Wildlife store at Prime Outlets. Signs already up along the highway direct motorists there. Officials said the store was vacant for almost a year.

Amelia said she hopes the center draws some of the 4.5 million shoppers who visit the outlets each year, and that those who pull off I-70 to go to the welcome center stay to shop. She said travelers also could take advantage of the Prime Outlets' food court and restrooms.

Barr said tourism in Washington County is the second largest private industry. Thomas B. Riford, president and CEO of the Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that in the last fiscal year, 2 million people visited the county and spent $250 million.

Officials said they hope the new welcome center brings additional local revenue.

"We do have a lot to offer here in Western Maryland," Myers said. "We're fast becoming that new treasure that everyone is finding."

While Amelia said she expects at least 200,000 people to visit the center each year, which is an average of 550 per day, Coyne said much of that traffic will be staggered and will not have an impact on local roads.

George Small, assistant district engineer for traffic for the State Highway Administration, said traffic signals near the outlets respond to changes in traffic volume and "should be able to keep up." If there are problems with traffic in the area, Small said adjustments can be made.

Steven A. Sless, vice president of Specialty Leasing, which is a department of Prime Retail, said Prime Outlets at Hagerstown has enough parking to accommodate the additional visitors.

"We don't anticipate that being an issue," Sless said.

Later Thursday, tourism officials and others hosted festivities at the Sideling Hill Welcome Center near Hancock, where a ribbon cutting was held for the recently installed electronic information kiosk.

The outdoor kiosk provides after-hours assistance, such as printed information and directions to accommodations, recreation, dining and shopping in both Allegany and Garrett counties.

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