Lynchburg Visitors Center renovations to create a space for residents and guests to connect with the city
The city of Lynchburg’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism is renovating the Visitors Center located on the corner of 12th and Church Streets, with the intent of creating a space for both Lynchburg residents and visitors to connect with the city.
“It’s a cool little building,” Anna Bentson, the assistant director of Economic Development and Tourism, said. “We’re restoring it … to its roots. The first part of the renovation was to put our tourism sales team down there, … then Jan. 1, we closed the public side of the building to do the renovations.”
The awning-clad building, which stands in contrast to its surroundings, served as an auto shop in its early years. Bentson said the renovations will bring back roll-up garage doors, giving the location both indoor and outdoor event space.
Additionally, Bentson said the project will divide the interior of the building into several smaller rooms, rather than one large room.
“It will be kind of a multi-purpose space, so instead of one big room, we’ll turn that into a conference room, and we’ll be able to do meetings and trainings and bring stakeholders in,” Bentson said. “We’ll have a little bit (of a) smaller retail footprint, but we’re hoping (to have) more Lynchburg products.”
Despite some construction setbacks, Bentson said the center is expected to reopen April 1. A pop-up Visitors Center is currently operating in the lobby of the Lynchburg Museum located at 901 Court Street.
In 2017, the city of Lynchburg’s Tourism and Economic Development offices merged. Bentson explained this merger, which involved staffing reorganization and help from Lynchburg Public Works, allowed for an opportunity to give the Visitors Center an “interior facelift.”
“It’s really important that when people visit a community, they have a great experience and it’s welcoming and … memorable. … (so) when they go back home, (they’ll) tell their friends they’ve been to Lynchburg, and it’s just a great place to go visit for a weekend. That’s invaluable word of mouth,” Ashley Kershner, director of the Downtown Lynchburg Association, said. “So, if the Visitors Center can help them have a better experience of Lynchburg, it’s a really important marketing tool for (the city).”
Not only will the refreshed center serve as a marketing tool for the city, but it will also be a place for local artisans to showcase their work.
“Part of our mission in (the Department of Economic Development and Tourism) is to showcase small businesses, makers and people who are making interesting things in the city,” Bentson said. “One of our ideas is to make (the Visitors Center) a pop-up space … people could use it for a month or three months to showcase their products.”
With the diversity in opportunities offered by the new space, Bentson hopes the Visitors Center will drive both local traffic and tourism to downtown.
“I think the purpose of (the Visitors Center) is to provide a welcoming space that really showcases the Lynchburg experience,” Bentson said. “It’s a place where people can come, both people who have lived here for many years and those who are visiting or are new to the city, to come and get a taste of who Lynchburg really is, and then we’ll send them out to explore the rest of the city from there.”
Another major hub of Lynchburg is the Lynchburg Community Market, which Bentson described as a “good entry point for a lot of college students.” The Visitors Center is virtually on top of the Community Market; however, when standing at the market, only the back of the Visitors Center is visible. Bentson said the department hopes to integrate the Visitors Center with the amphitheater on the market’s grounds in the future to create “synergy” between the two spaces.
“(12th and Main Streets) are the corner people start their journey on during a weekend downtown,” Kershner said. “I think having a more cohesive experience would obviously be a benefit to the tourism industry. A lot of people who go to the Community Market don’t know the Visitors Center is up there on the corner.”