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New Haywood Visitor Center opens in Maggie Valley

fr visitorcenterThe Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will celebrate the grand opening of its new visitor center with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15. What remains to be seen, however, is whether visitors to Haywood County will follow them.

In March — after a search lasting more than a year — the TDA board unanimously voted to leave its home of five years on Main Street in Waynesville for bigger digs in Maggie Valley. The move was not without criticism; the highly visible Main Street location served 25,000 walk-ins last year, while a different location in a Maggie Valley strip mall served less than 7,500. 

Another concern is the length of the authority’s new lease — 10 years. Although the authority has the ability to sublease the space to a new tenant in the event of catastrophe, the long duration of the lease affords the authority lower rent over the term of the lease.

“I can tell you it’s going to be pretty amazing,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the authority, of the new location at 1110 Soco Road. “Our numbers are going to be equal to or surpass what we had last year. The first week we were there, we did not have our sign installed, and we still had 431 visitors.” 

Board Member Ken Howle, who is also Director of Advancement for Lake Junaluska, shared Collins’ optimism. 

“The new location is on a busy thoroughfare, in an ideal location, on the ideal side of the road,” he said. “It will allow people to stop, get good information, and be enticed to stay overnight in Haywood County.”

And judging by the nationwide furor surrounding North Carolina’s controversial Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act — commonly known as HB2 or the “bathroom bill” — Haywood County will need to do plenty of enticing; Howle said that Lake Junaluska has already received one cancellation attributed to the bill. 

“It’s a good sized piece of business, but not a huge chunk,” Howle said of the $17,000 loss. “In our overall revenue situation, it’s not a significant loss, but every amount of lost revenue adds up. We value all business.”

While stopping short of issuing an official statement on HB2, the authority has prepared a response to those who may cite their opposition to HB2 as a reason to cancel travel plans to the region:

“Haywood County Tourism Development Authority’s mission is to promote travel to and within Haywood County and we refrain from commenting on public policy. Haywood County is a welcoming community and we invite you to visit us and experience our beautiful area that borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

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