IN THE REGION — The Westbrook Welcome Center is open and staffed for Labor Day weekend for the first time in more than three years.
“We are excited to have all six welcome centers open again and thankful for Governor Lamont’s emphasis on this project,” said Randy Fiveash, the director of the Office of Tourism in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
The other five welcome centers – Darien, Greenwich, North Stonington, West Willington and Danbury – were all re-opened on a 24/7 basis on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, with a budget allocation of $1.7 million. These five Welcome Centers had been open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. since 2016. Westbrook was completely closed, and even fenced off, during that time.
“Westbrook is a little different, it hasn’t been open at all and so needed more time to be cleaned up and made ready by DOT,” Fiveash said.
Unlike the other five welcome centers, Westbrook neither doubles as a service plaza or as rest stop, and without any funding for tourism staff, the center served no purpose.
Starting Labor Day weekend, Westbrook will be staffed 24/7 between April 1 and December 31. In the winter months the center will be open for bathrooms and vending machines.
“This is the only one that was completely closed and that to me was so frustrating,” said Devin Carney, state representative for Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Lyme and Old Lyme. “The big thing is the appearance, the appearance of a welcome center that is closed and an overgrown building is really depressing.”
It cost the department of transportation $80,000 to refurbish the building and grounds, according to Kevin Nursick, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
The Welcome Center was officially re-opened on August 23, but Carney is hoping there will be a grand opening for the center at some point this fall.“I am hoping we can have some sort of grand opening,” Carney said. “There is just so much tourism in this area between the hotels, the museums, the beaches, the art in Old Lyme.”
The hope is that the added services will encourage visitors to extend their stay or even move to the area, Fiveash said.
“When you think about all the tourism that is in our area of the state it just makes sense to have accessible information available to those traveling through,” Carney said.