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A Visitor Information Center Worthy of Wilmington

We were glad to see the Wilmington City Council discuss the downtown Visitor Information Center this week. According to the Star News, May 10, 2019, Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes requested the City continue to look at ways to maintain the heavily used Center even though it received paint and some improvements in 2017 to the still inadequate industrial grade restrooms. As Neil Anderson put it, “take a look at sprucing it up,” citing the importance and visibility of the site at the foot of Market Street. Hear, hear!


THE RESTROOM CHALLENGE—OH MY!

We hope this is the beginning of an effort to completely redo the restrooms and add at least one or preferably two more restrooms usable by women who are invariably queued up at any active hour. Cities that care about treating residents and visitors as welcome guests around the country offer restrooms that are much more user friendly. A nationally respected City, Riverwalk and Northside Park with third world restrooms? It just doesn’t compute.


IMPROVING VISITOR SERVICES AND CAPTURING LOST REVENUE

We do have some very specific suggestions about visitor services, because we have looked into that problem in depth:


Last we heard, about 90% of all of the visitor information furnished other than online by the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) flowed through the open window of the Information Center from staff and volunteers to residents of the region and visitors. They do a fine job under difficult working conditions, but the absence of air conditioning and heating often make the work nearly or actually impossible. Thus the facility is closed much of the year and visitor services cease.


There is no data on how much the City and County lose in tax revenue, lodging facilities miss in extended stay opportunities, or restaurants and entertainment venues lose in customer counts, because no one was there to suggest those ideas, and no maps and brochures are accessible for do-it-yourselfers. Sure, most, but not all of us do this stuff online these days. An informed sales effort still matters greatly, coming from our knowledgeable and friendly staff.


A USER FRIENDLY ENCLOSED VISITOR AREA WITH CLIMATE CONTROL

We have researched a simple and surprisingly inexpensive fix that we humbly recommend to the City:


The north end of the building (nearest to Market Street) has an oval roof structure atop a rectangular building. By extending and enclosing the rectangle a few feet further out, staying within the oval roof-line, a sturdy wood and unbreakable glass structure would be added, sitting atop the existing decking with a center door that would admit a few visitors at a time.





THE EXPERTS AGREE WITH THE USERS AND VISITORS—LET’S DO IT!

We invited a leading downtown architect and a CAMA expert both to meet us and assess the structural issues. Neither expect any technical impediments. We discussed it with senior CVB staff and Center staff and volunteers. All said they would welcome the changes. Without getting too fancy, we heard $30-40,000 could do the job adequately.That’s not a budget buster, it’s smart investment with real return that could be done immediately, interim to more elaborate building improvements.


KUDOS TO CITY COUNCIL FOR THE “BOB JENKINS” VISITOR INFORMATION CENTER

Finally, we could not close without thanking City Council for honoring the memory of this pioneer tour guide with an encyclopedic knowledge of the facts and the tales of his forty years of chronicling the very renaissance that inspires and names our work. Thank you Bob, and thank you, City Council. A class act.


Bill Graham

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Renaissance Wilmington Foundation

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