South Mountain Welcome Centers officially open

December 15, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • The new South Mountain Welcome Center along eastbound Interstate 70 at South Mountain opened Wednesday.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, staff photographer

MYERSVILLE, Md. — State officials had some fun during a ribbon-cutting Wednesday morning for the newly reopened South Mountain Welcome Centers, acknowledging that for many travelers, the main attraction is also its least glamorous.

“They wanted me to talk about the restrooms,” said Dominick Murray, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, who wondered out loud why he was assigned that part of the program.

“It’s really easy, you know... you just go in, and there’s like three times as many as there used to be,” Murray said, as the audience dissolved into laughter.

But from an economic perspective, it is what travelers do after they finish using the restrooms that makes the welcome centers so important, officials said.

Upon leaving the restrooms, outdoor exhibits lead travelers toward the entrance of a welcome center with brochures, interactive kiosks and staff to provide information about Maryland’s attractions and accommodations, Murray said.

“Because of the experience our visitors have, it translates into much-needed revenue for the state,” Murray said.

The centers, one on each side of Interstate 70, near Myersville, closed for renovation in the spring of 2008 and reopened last summer upon completion of roughly $18 million in upgrades that greatly expanded the size of the restroom and visitor center buildings.

The project also included about $3 million for a wastewater-treatment center, for a total cost of about $21 million, State Highway Administration officials have said. About half of that, $10.7 million, was federal funding, and the rest was state funding.

“These buildings provide stark contrast to the previous ones, which were long past their prime,” SHA District Engineer David Coyne said at the ceremony.

The new buildings are silver-certified under LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“Some could argue in our old buildings we did have some green features,” Coyne joked. “You could see the stars and the sun through the roof out front. The windows had natural ventilation where the breeze was coming through. The welcome center staff would try to get more people in there to allow the building to heat up.”

The welcome centers are just over the Frederick County line, but several Washington County officials, including Washington County Commissioners President Terry Baker, Commissioner John F. Barr and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington, attended the ceremony.

“I thought maybe there was going to be a proclamation that they were going to move the county line a little bit,” Coyne joked.

Myers, who chairs the county legislative delegation, said tourism is critical to Western Maryland, with an estimated 6,000 tourism-related jobs in Washington County alone.

When travelers visit the welcome centers, “they’ll stop, they’ll maybe spend an extra day or so, and this is the only way that some of our small businesses really attract visitors from the interstate,” Myers said.

Data from counters on the visitor center’s entrances and restroom doors show that about 10 out of every 100 people who use the restrooms also visit the welcome center, said Margot Amelia, executive director for the Maryland Tourism Office.

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