The long-planned Islamorada Visitors Center at Founders Park opened recently, bringing with it predictions that the building will have a tangible impact on tourism.
"It's going to be big enough to feel it," Chamber Executive Director Judy Hull said of the anticipated bump.
The 2,100-square-foot facility replaces the chamber's former visitor center at Mile Marker 83.2. That site was tucked away in a small office plaza, where it was far less visible from the highway than the new location fronting Founders Park.
Hull said about 40,000 people per year typically stopped into the old center. She's guessing the new location will draw more like 60,000.
"They see our photos on the wall. They see our brochures and all of the sudden they decide to stay here," she said.
Another plus the new visitors center brings, chamber officials say, is that it is located 5 miles north of the old Upper Matecumbe Key office. That means that tourists going from Miami to Key West will see the center while they are still close to Plantation Key and Windley Key attractions.
Hull said tourists began attempting to visit the new building within five minutes of the Islamorada Visitors Center sign going up nearly three weeks ago.
Because the facility wasn't open yet, the chamber put up ropes and signage to ward off the would-be visitors.
Construction on the project began in January, some two years after the chamber first appealed to the Village Council for permission to build on the city park property. The council approved a 25-year lease in March 2012 under which the chamber pays $10 annually.
In addition to the visitor center, the new building will house the chamber's administrative offices. Hull said she expected to have her staff moved in by Thursday.
Chamber officials aren't the only ones happy to see the new visitor center up and running. HB Barrett, who sits on the Islamorada area's District Advisory Council for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, also said he expects that there will be a substantial uptick in the number of people who stop at the center.
"If they do a good job of selling Islamorada that will impact the number of people that stay overnight, and it will tremendously impact the number of people who, even if they do not stay overnight, will participate in some type of activity in the Islamorada area," he said.