CAPE CHARLES, VA – It all began as an idea for an outdoor kiosk to house brochures for local businesses and attractions in the parking lot of the North Toll Plaza Rest Area at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Northampton County obtained TEA-21 grant funding to construct such a kiosk; but after much discussion, it was determined that this would not serve the area well and the project was put on hold.
In 2006, a partnership was born between the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, in which the CBBT agreed to permit the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission to operate a temporary welcome center within the minimal lobby space of the existing rest area building. This pilot program served more than 8,000 travelers that passed through the rest area building between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, offering them information on the Eastern Shore and its surrounding areas.
The pilot program was continued throughout the tourist seasons of 2007 and 2008, greeting more than 10,000 and 12,000 travelers, respectively.
With the renovation of the Bridge-Tunnel’s existing rest area in the North Toll Plaza parking lot looming in the future, Northampton County and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel worked to have the TEA-21 grant funds redirected to “bricks and mortar,” rather than open kiosk. This redirection of funds would allow more than $90,000 to be dedicated to construction costs of a larger, central space within the confines of the Bridge-Tunnel’s rest area building, and such space would be dedicated to the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission for the full-time operation of the Eastern Shore Southern Gateway Welcome Center.
The renovations to the existing rest area building began in 2008 and the building, including the Welcome Center area, are anticipated to open on August 1st. The Eastern Shore Tourism Commission will staff the Welcome Center with three part-time and one full-time staff. Additional assistance will be provided by a group of volunteers.
GMB Architects of Salisbury, MD was hired to design the space and L.J. Kellam Construction, LLC of Belle Haven, VA served as contractor, bringing the design of an Eastern Shore gazebo to life.
The Welcome Center, which plans to be open year-round, will offer brochure information for local, Eastern Shore businesses and attractions as well as advertising opportunities for those businesses, providing an even greater exposure to the travelers who stop and visit.