Ocean City Welcome Center grand opening scheduled for Sept. 20

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File photo / The Roy Gillian Welcome Center in Ocean City File photo / The Roy Gillian Welcome Center in Ocean City

OCEAN CITY – Located on the south side of the Route 52 causeway, the new Roy Gillian Welcome Center and adjacent multi-use pathway have become two of the city’s most popular destinations. While the welcome center has been open since Memorial Day weekend, the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, which operates it, will host a grand opening ceremony 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20.

“The new welcome center and entire bridge have become a fabulous new Ocean City recreational facility. We are excited to see so many people enjoying the new facilities and taking advantage of all the outdoor recreational opportunities available because of this project,” Michele Gillian, executive director of the chamber, said.

“It’s the bay’s boardwalk,” she said.

The welcome center was constructed as part of the $500 million New Jersey Department of Transportation Route 52 bridge and causeway reconstruction project. It was modeled after the early 20th-century Ocean City Yacht Club, which was demolished in 1944. The new bridge connecting Ninth Street in Ocean City to MacArthur Boulevard in Somers Point, which replaced the old drawbridge, opened in spring 2012. The multi-use pathway opened in spring 2013.

In addition to being a hub of information for all that is Ocean City, the Roy Gillian Welcome Center offers parking, access to the pedestrian walkway and fishing piers along the bridge, restrooms and wrap-around porches on both levels.

“It is a wonderful new addition for outdoor recreational activities,” Gillian said.

When the welcome center was set to move back to the causeway from the Ninth Street location that temporarily housed it during construction, Gillian said she worried that traffic might slow down. She said she was pleasantly surprised by a giant uptick in traffic compared to the chamber’s Ninth Street location.

“We’ve improved three fold,” she said. “Three times as many people come through the welcome center now that it’s out on the causeway. We realized that it’s not just about visitors stopping on their way in to Ocean City; it’s become a destination unto itself. They’re going into Ocean City, and they’re coming back to visit again.”

Gillian said she feared that visitors might overlook the new facility.

“I was shocked,” she said. “The foot traffic has been amazing. The athletes come in to get water and use the bathrooms, people come in for information. We have all the updated concert information, beach tags, all kinds of information.

“Even the number of phone calls we have been getting is way up,” she said.  “They’re looking at our small businesses; they’re looking to see where they can get a new pair of shoes or a dress, or a frozen yogurt. They want to know when the fireworks are. It’s been a great location for us.”

Gillian said bird watching has been popular at the welcome center.

“You see people out there bird watching every day. We have a bird sanctuary here, it’s just incredible,” she said, adding that people have shared numerous sightings of various birds they’ve spotted.

“When you walk around, you just can’t believe that this facility is here, in Ocean City. How lucky are we that we have this?” Gillian said.

Gillian said she was pleased at how peacefully bicycle riders and pedestrians have mixed on the bridge and causeway.

“The serious riders are riding on the shoulder of the highway,” she said. “Recreational riders like myself are on the multi-use path and sharing the road with the pedestrians.

“That’s the nice thing about Ocean City, everyone is polite and courteous. They say ‘on your left’ or ‘on your right’ as they go past. I think the etiquette has been pretty good out here on Route 52. Everyone knows the rules.”

While the pathway runs along the south side of the bridge, vehicular access to the welcome center is available from both directions on the bridge.

The welcome center is open every day until 6 p.m., seven days a week. While traffic has slowed post-Labor Day, Gillian said it’s still a happening spot.

“If the weather is nice, they’ll be out there,” she said. “We’ll adjust our hours in the off-season, but the only holidays we close are Thanksgiving and Christmas. We realize that this is a recreational facility that our year-round community wants to take advantage of.”

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