Grant funds reopening of city welcome center

Beginning in May, a big blue furniture store will not be the only building welcoming travelers into New Haven.

The NewAlliance Foundation announced earlier this month that it would provide a $25,000 grant to reopen the Long Wharf Visitors Center, located off Interstate 95 directly across from IKEA. Shut down more than three years ago because of cuts in Connecticut’s Convention and Visitors Bureau state financing, the visitors center will be managed by the Town Green District and renamed INFO New Haven at Long Wharf. This pilot five-month operation will begin in early May and continue through the busy summer season.

The center’s prominent location is a common point of entry for many people traveling to New Haven. The Long Wharf area experienced average daily traffic counts of 157,000 in 2003, before IKEA had even opened, Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Susan Godshall LAW ’73 ARC ’75 said.

“If we can capture even a small percent of these folks, we will have people learning much more about New Haven than before,” Town Green District Executive Director Scott Healy ’96 said. “We want to put the city’s best foot forward by having a well-managed and conveniently located visitors center.”

The Town Green District already runs a visitors center on College and Chapel streets in downtown New Haven, called INFO New Haven. The Long Wharf center will serve the same function, have the same management structure, and use the same “concierge approach” to providing information, Healy said. Unlike the smaller Chapel Street center, the Long Wharf building will be 600 square feet, he said.

“We are moving toward having one model for getting out all information about New Haven,” Healy said. “This has the effect of increased efficiency and spreads our hands-on approach to helping people get to know the city.”

The Arts, Entertainment and Tourism Cluster, a committee run by the New Haven Chamber of Commerce, has been working since last summer to reopen the visitors center. Chamber President Tony Rescigno said they were very upset when the center was shut down.

“We understood that it is a costly thing to keep up, but the city is really in a renaissance and doing well, and we thought its information booth being closed down sent the wrong message,” Rescigno said.

In its search for a corporate sponsor, the Chamber applied for a grant from the NewAlliance Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded last year with the creation of the NewAlliance Bank in New Haven. The mission of the foundation is to improve the lives of residents in the five counties where the bank does business, Kim Healey, the foundation’s executive director, said.

“We thought the visitors center in New Haven was very important to signal to tourists the wealth of activities in the arts and culture and all the other wonderful assets of New Haven,” Healey said.

The NewAlliance Foundation has committed to help find a new sponsor for the center for next summer and suggested that they start a tradition of each sponsor finding a new sponsor for the following year to keep the center operating. Members of the Chamber of Commerce and Town Green District are also hoping to find more sponsors for the center this year, although the New Alliance Foundation will be the chief backer.

“There are lots of other organizations in New Haven that would benefit from exposure at the visitors center,” Godshall said. “We could not have done this without the generosity of the NewAlliance Foundation, but we are still hoping to top their contribution.”

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