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Ask Matt ... about Welcome Center redesign

Architect's rendering shows the redesigned Welcome Center. Architect's rendering shows the redesigned Welcome Center.

Q. What are the changes they are making to the Visitors Center on South Main Street?

  It won’t look anything like it looks now. Conceptual plans that were rolled out in July showed the brick building at 201 S. Main St. will have a complete interior remake plus some cosmetic changes to the front entrance. The ceiling of the former Wachovia Bank building will be removed for a more open look. Offices will be reconfigured and shielded from the visitor area and the two full walls of attraction rack cards will be minimized and relocated.

  “The new visitor experience will feature four focus areas,” said Michelle Owens, executive director of the TDA. “There will be an area for lodging and dining, an outdoor experiences corner, an area for agritourism including wineries and breweries, and a platform for displays which will be changed seasonally.” The goal is to encourage the visitor to better connect with what the County has to offer. Owens said the concept will be more hands-on with touch screens, maps and other digital and video features to draw the visitor to each area.

  Along with the physical changes there will be less subtle branding change. The green-roofed building will no longer be a “Visitors Center.” It will be rebranded as the Welcome Center. “The idea is that this is not just for visitors, it’s a place locals will want to be as well. We want the person who stops in just to use the restroom to pause for a minute and look around,” said Owens who is passionate about connecting with the local population. “Everyone here is a tourism ambassador,” she said. “The displays will help them see what’s in their own backyard and tell our story.”

Phase I of the project will cost $1.4 million, with funding coming from occupancy taxes and not from Henderson County’s general operating budget. Plans are to go to bid in early 2023. The building will be closed during the estimated 10 months of construction but a temporary building will be erected onsite to keep the visitor operation going. There is a less expensive phase 2 somewhere down the road where more exterior improvements are planned.

  Although Owens has been in her director position for less than two years, her enthusiasm for this project has not gone unnoticed. “This is a wow county,” she said. “And I think there will be a lot of ‘wows!’ when they cut the ribbon for the reopening of the Welcome Center.”

Q. Are dogs and cats allowed inside grocery stores, restaurants or bars?

  Let’s start with the easy one – breweries and their taprooms. Here dogs rule. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill that allows dogs and cats in breweries with the owner’s consent. There is a condition that no food is prepared on the premises. It would seem that food trucks parked outside the taproom are not a problem. A law had been on the books that classified beer as “food” and thus subject to more rigorous conditions regarding animals. It might be worth noting that the state laws benefitting craft breweries, wineries and distilleries have been championed by former Rep. Chuck McGrady and now by Rep. Tim Moffitt.

  Restaurants are different. If the location is classified as a “food establishment,” typically one that requires a health department permit, the N.C. Food Code Manual prohibits animals on the premises. There are some obvious exceptions such as law enforcement patrol dogs and service animals. A restaurant owner, for example, may allow dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas, such as patios that are not accessed through the restaurant but the animals must be physically restrained. Here the animals must not physically contact food or food service items that may result in contamination, plus the animals may not contact employees preparing food.

  Grocery stores are inspected by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and our Henderson County Health Department inspects food establishments like restaurants and food stands but the Health Department also checks certain stands within the store like the deli or salad bar. Per federal law, no animal other than a service animal is allowed in a grocery store – period!

  Don’t despair. We found a website ( that lists places where dogs are welcome. “Fido is welcome to accompany you when visiting dog-friendly Johnson Family Farm in Hendersonville, NC,” reads the website post. It goes on to say the produce stand on Kanuga Road specializes in southern vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk, honey, baked goods and more.

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