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The city’s newly renovated Visitor Center aims to be inviting to tourists and locals alike

The city’s newly renovated Visitor Center aims to be inviting to tourists and locals alike
December 2020
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Find new event and reception space, featuring a demonstration kitchen, plus a marketplace curated with exclusive products from local makers



The latest technology (mobile ticket sales, real-time tour schedules) coupled with enhanced, and more inclusive, video storytelling greet visitors.

One would expect that a city celebrated for hospitality would have a big, welcoming entryway. But for decades, the Visitor Center at the corner of Meeting and John streets wasn’t much more than a glorified brochure rack. Granted, when it initially opened in 1991, tourism was a trickle of what it is today, however with eight million people annually visiting Charleston, the need for improved storytelling, information services, and public bathrooms, became paramount. Thanks to a major yearlong renovation, the newly reopened Visitor Center checks those boxes and more.

Updates to the elongated brick building, an 1840s former railroad warehouse, have been significant, and thoughtfully executed. An expansive outdoor platform now fronts both sides of the building, creating “ideal versatile space for vendor activation, arts demonstrations, and events,” says Doug Warner, vice president of media and innovation development for Explore Charleston, which now manages the property. Warner also served as project manager for the $5.5 million city-funded project, working with Glenn Keyes Architects and Hood Construction.

(Above left) The large breezeway with a map of the region.

Two breezeways lead into the middle, open-air segment, where a giant map orienting guests to the broader region is painted on the floor. Black-and-white tiled thresholds reference those found at iconic King Street storefronts, and wrought-iron breezeway gates add another Charleston-centric touch. Both here and in the adjacent air-conditioned visitor information gallery, huge screens display hourly tour information. “We’ve embraced an Apple Store approach, with staff roving around, bringing ticketing services directly to guests, mitigating lines,” Warner explains.

A sense of inclusion, gracious welcome, and personality is conveyed by videos of smiling notable locals. Exhibits on Robert Smalls, Denmark Vesey, and local civil rights history offer a broader sense of the city’s past. “We recognize the need to tell Charleston’s story differently, to share the horrors as well as the successes,” Warner says.

The hope is that the center will be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, especially the new event and reception space, featuring a gourmet demonstration kitchen, and a curated marketplace, where you can grab a fresh cup of locally roasted King Bean coffee or an exclusive Brackish bow tie. Most importantly, 29 beautiful new public restrooms, centrally located in the heart of the peninsula, await. A warm welcome indeed.