Rain and cool temps did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm over the grand opening of the new Everglades City Visitors Center.
About 90 people attended the festive event which included refreshments, a ribbon cutting and remarks from officials from Everglades City, Collier County, the State of Florida and the U.S. governments.
Located in the heart of Everglades City, the facility replaces the visitors’ center that was located at U.S. 41 and S.R. 29 and closed about two and a half years ago. Unlike its predecessor, the new visitors’ center is operated by the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation.
“It’s a wonderful day for Collier County, but it’s a huge and an important day for Everglades City,” Jack Wert, executive director of Collier County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the crowd.
Wert said the old visitors’ center had left a void when it closed because it had been the county’s busiest. Now all that’s needed signage along U.S. 41 to make travelers aware of the new facility’s existence.
“This is absolutely gorgeous,” said Wert. “This is exactly what we needed. Thank you for your passion and all of you in the preservation group for making sure this happened. This is going to once again be the No. 1, first stop for visitors in Collier County.”
Among the dignitaries attending the event were U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), whose district includes Everglades City—the superintendents of both the Everglades and Big the Cypress National Parks, Eric Brechnitz, chairman of Marco Island City Council, Everglades City Mayor Howie Grimm, Jr. and City Clerk Dottie Joiner, and Elaine Middlestaedt, a member of the Everglades City Council.
They were joined by Craig and Bonnie Woodward of Marco Island and Everglades City, who own the building where the visitors’ center is located and are not charging any rent for the first year.
Kathy Brock, president of the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation and a member of the county’s Tourism Development Council, thanked the Woodwards. “They’ve so graciously have provided this space for us, free of charge, to get this visitor’s center open,” she said. “We could not be more thankful for them and their efforts.”
Art lined the walls of the center’s rooms. Brock said the Society for Historic Preservation will fund the center through the sale of works by local artists that are displayed there.
“We will be able to generate some income in that way,” she explained. “We’re not a gift shop. We’re not competing with our local businesses, but we will augment some of the things that are available in town for visitors to keep our lights on and the doors open.”
The Everglades City Visitors’ Center is located at 207 Broadway Ave. West, in Everglades City, across from the Everglades Rod and Gun Club.