Visitors center briefly relocates

$1.3 million fix-up moves bureau for about 10 months

December 29, 2006|By JOE PALAZZOLO | JOE PALAZZOLO,Special to The Sun

Annapolis' hub for wayfarers is moving its operations down the road for the next eight to 10 months while it undergoes a $1.3 million expansion and renovation.

Starting today, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau is taking temporary residence in the Arundel Center at 44 Calvert St., said Connie Del Signore, president and chief executive officer. Work on the bureau, which welcomed about 190,000 visitors last year, is expected to begin Jan. 8.

"The whole purpose for our doing this is because of our growth," Del Signore said. "We're going to reconfigure the space to make it much more user-friendly."

The overhaul, bankrolled by the state, county and city, and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, will add a second floor, a conference room, new bathrooms and a sleeker look to the building at 26 Main St.

In the meantime, the administrative staff will occupy the second and third floor above Cook's Revenge at 197 Main St. Space limitations forced the center to split its operations.

Del Signore said it was necessary to relocate nearby so that the center was in place for the tens of thousands of visitors at the First Night Annapolis festival on New Year's Eve.

"It's practically next door," Del Signore said.

Visitors will still be able to park in the Gott's Court garage. The center's phone number, e-mail and mailing addresses will remain the same.

The visitors center was embedded in the current building, which is about 200 years old, in the early 1990s. It was last revamped in 1993, but the tide of visitors since then has distressed the building's interior, Del Signore said.

The main entrance will shift to West Street to improve the flow of foot traffic, and new flooring, roofing and window treatments will beautify the interior, Del Signore said.

The added floor will open the lower level for more visitors' services, in a city renowned nationally for its history and internationally for its sailing, said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

"This enlargement will simply enhance the efforts of the volunteers, and it will also give us more space to tell some of the stories of the city," she said. "This is the place people come first."

Foot traffic has held steady for the past few years, Del Signore said, but the number of hits on the the center's Web site has jumped 300 percent in that span. The center also plans to revise its Web site to allow staff to answer online queries and remotely dispense information.

Del Signore said that, in addition to the center's services, she hopes to increase her staff - and her budget - to help fill the county's growing hotel space.

"All of this talk about growth and expansion - the reason for all this is that we have increased our hotel-room inventory in Anne Arundel by 40 percent from 2003 to 2008," she said.

Three years ago, the center's sales department booked about 4,500 overnight stays in various hotels. This year, the department notched 16,000.

The center's $1.3 million annual budget is supplied in large part by the county. Seven percent of Anne Arundel's hotel tax - about $1 million last year - goes to the visitors center, Del Signore said.

For the center's restoration, the state contributed about $550,000, the city about $100,000 and the county, $200,000. The MHAA awarded the center an $85,000 grant. Del Signore said that the $365,000 shortfall would be covered by fundraising.

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