HARTFORD, CT — Before the Fourth of July holiday state officials announced that Connecticut’s seven rest areas operated by the Department of Transportation would reopen 24/7, but the seven “Welcome Centers” have been slower to re-open.
The Welcome Centers, which are sometimes within the same building as the rest areas, are run by the Department of Economic and Community Development. The centers are supposed to be staffed during the day with employees who can direct visitors to the “great attractions of Connecticut.”
Sen. Cathy Osten, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said she sent DECD a letter last week because she got the sense that staffing the centers was not happening quickly.
“As you know, the legislature specifically appropriated funds for the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to staff the welcome centers, in addition to providing funding for the Department of Transportation to open the rest areas. We are grateful that the rest areas are now open. However, the Welcome Center in North Stonington has not yet been staffed,” Osten and a handful of other lawmakers wrote. “These welcome centers are necessary to make our state more attractive to visitors and our residents.”
Jim Watson, a spokesman for DECD, said the DECD will reopen all the state’s welcome centers.
“Now that funding has been reallocated, we are conducting a thorough assessment to determine what exactly is needed, including staffing, to get them up and running as quickly as possible. While we cannot provide a detailed schedule yet, we will work to have a few of them open in the next 30 days,” Watson said. “Our top priority will be to make sure the customer experience at each of the centers is a positive one — where visitors can learn about all the great things to do and see in our state. We appreciate the support of the legislature and the Governor to get these centers open once again.”
Osten said she hopes the centers re-open more quickly than 30 days.
She said the centers are important to tourism in these crucial summer months.
She said the centers are an important marketing tool for the state, especially along the shoreline. She said the employees can give visitors more information about local events that might not always be in the brochures or guide books.
There are Welcome Centers in North Stonington, Westbrook, Darien, Fairfield, Danbury, West Willington, and Litchfield.
The state budget included $480,000 to hire six welcome center employees and six seasonal employees in addition to $175,000 for other expenses.