Officials Report New Visitor’s Center Serving Purpose

BERLIN — Growth in Berlin could mean an expanded role for the town’s visitor center while an emphasis on increasing foot traffic to under-visited parts of downtown is underway.
For many years, a majority of visitors to Berlin may not have realized that there’s more to the town than Main Street beyond the Atlantic Hotel. That’s changing, according to Michael Day, director of Economic and Community Development. The visitor’s center has helped attract foot traffic to the southern end of Main Street, he said.
“What it’s done is it’s opened up that end of Main Street. It’s helping to bring people down there and the zumba place and the deli [are helping as well],” said Day. “Now, with the visitor’s center being at the anchor of that end of town, it really has anchored it and is bringing people down there.”
To reflect that, Day received permission from the Town Council last Monday to apply for a $15,000 Technical Assistant Grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The grant doesn’t have a designated purpose yet but Day said that it might be used to improve the building’s roof or for a heating system.
“I’m doing that small amount because there’s only $200,000 in the pot and [the DHCD] divides that up among the 126 towns that apply for money,” said Day. “So you have a much better shot at getting a little money than getting a lot.”
Confirmation on who will be receiving grant money isn’t expected until the spring but Day was eager to get a head start on the process. It is a matching grant so if awarded the town will need to put up an equal amount of money. He will also be approaching the council at the end of the month to discuss the possibility of adding an employee to the visitor center.
“I’m actually trying to see if I can get some funds to see if I can have somebody sit in there and run it for a while but that’s still way up in the air,” said Day. “That depends on the Mayor and Council and they’re going to vote on that in a couple of weeks.”
Currently, the foyer is open 24 hours a day, but Day feels it will benefit the town to have an employee available at times to answer questions.
Another potential upgrade to the center could be the addition of more town merchandise.
“We’re looking at turning the front of it into more of a gift shop with Berlin souvenirs … that would not compete with any of the stores because none of the stores are carrying that,” said Day.
It would be similar to how Ocean City markets the resort, though on a much smaller scale.
“People go home and they give their mother-in-law a coffee cup with Berlin on it and that sort of thing,” Day said. “It’s absolutely a good way to grow the brand and advertise ourselves and make a little money to pay for utilities.”
A strong visitor’s center helps more than just Main Street, he continued, and serves to draw people to parts of town they may not have otherwise explored.
“One of the great things about it is they cross the street and they see Williams Street and the shops on Williams Street,” Day explained.
He credited the individual businesses around town for doing their part with prevalent signage and involvement in events.
“It looks like there’s activity going on down there and it is … it’s a visual thing,” said Day.
That exposure could increase going forward as Day plans on trying to expand event parameters and focus during some town activities to better include Williams Street. If the council is in board, this could mean anything from stages in the area during festivals to potentially adding parts of the street to the beer gardens at several of the high-profile events.