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Welcome change for Visitor Center

Virginia Tourism Corp. CEO Rita McClenny (in white suit) greets attendees at the city Visitor Center’s re-dedication.

At one of its most popular places, Fredericksburg is presenting a comelier face to traveling public.

The city Visitor Center, the spot where many people likely get their first welcome to the region, looks spiffier these days thanks to months of renovations.

On Wednesday, Virginia’s tourism czar came to have a look, and heralded those improvements during a small reception at the center on Caroline Street in the downtown Historic District.

“Fredericksburg is timeless, and Virginia is for Fredericksburg lovers,” said Rita D. McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corp., riffing on the marketing slogans for the region and the commonwealth.

“What a great opportunity it is to be here to see the re-dedication of the visitor center,” McClenny said in an interview in the facility’s revamped auditorium.

“This is the first line where people come to receive information and to expect a friendly smile and a well-educated tourism counseling force.”

McClenny went straight from the reception to the annual luncheon of the Fredericksburg Regional Hospitality Council Awards, where she praised the work of the area’s tourism, hotel and attractions employees.

Earlier, on a picture-postcard morning, she was welcomed by city Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and other officials from across the area.

All took time to admire the center’s brighter façade, which now sports a color scheme that dovetails with the hues used for the city’s tourism-oriented signs and its “Fredericksburg Timeless” branding.

New paint is the least of the upgrades to the Visitor Center, built in 1817 as a confectionary. (Merchant Anthony Kale used downstairs as a candy shop and lived upstairs.)

There is fresh, lighter paint on the walls throughout; new window treatments; wider, safer stairs to the second story; a new front desk that provides more space to move around; more storage for tourist literature and street decorations; a small break room for counselors; and refurbishments to the auditorium where the orientation film is shown.

Cil King, a longtime counselor, said the upgrades make the interior cheerier for visitors and have boosted the counselors’ morale.

Karen W. Hedelt, director of the city Department of Economic Development and Tourism, said the original project was more finite: replacing some auditorium floor joints rotted by poor drainage in a neighboring alley.

But the city also needed to replace the public restrooms sacrificed for the new courthouse being built next door, she said.

So the city converted a large storage room at the rear of the Visitor Center into restrooms and, with approval from City Manager Beverly R. Cameron, undertook other improvements.

Most of the work was funded through the courthouse project.

Fredericksburg’s sister-cities—Fréjus, France, and Schwetzingen, Germany—were given offices by the University of Mary Washington, freeing space for tourism counselors.

“We’ve put a number of things together to totally freshen our public face, and we’re getting great responses to it from not only our visitors but our partners,” Hedelt said. “It’s turned out so well, starting from an itty–bitty little thing.”

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029



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