By Laurie Paolicelli
In 2019, when the Healthcare IT firm Well Dot picked Chapel Hill for its $3.1M headquarters, Orange County Commissioners, along with leaders in Chapel Hill, as well as NC Governor Roy Cooper, were happy to welcome the health firm to Franklin Street. Government leaders pledged incentives and a county-owned building then occupied by the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.
This week the Visitors Bureau opened its new Welcome Center at 308 W. Franklin Street in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill. “We wanted to position a Welcome Center near the largest influx of visitors to our county,” said Renee Price, Chair of the Orange County Commissioners, “and we recognize that as downtown Chapel Hill. We think the new addition will be well received in Chapel Hill.”
The Chapel Hill/Orange County Welcome Center is located at 308 West Franklin Street, just blocks from its previous location in the Bentley Building. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, with Saturday hours beginning in July.
Central to the new space is a 10 ft. wide LED screen showcasing a welcome message from James Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill and calls it one of his “favorite places on the planet.” In a nine-minute video, Taylor tells the story of events leading him to write “Carolina In My Mind,” penned while he was in London reminiscing about his beloved childhood home. Then he performs the iconic song.
Taylor also provided the Visitors Bureau with an autographed album cover perfect for visitor selfies.
Born in Boston in 1948 to Gertrude and Isaac Taylor, Taylor’s family moved to Chapel Hill when he was three years old. His father served as the Dean of the Medical School at UNC from 1964 to 1971. Taylor grew up playing music with his four siblings, Alex, Kate, Livingston, and Hugh.
In addition to Taylor’s video, the Welcome Center also features recorded greetings from other celebrities in the world of politics, culture, and sports: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a graduate of University North Carolina at Chapel Hill; author Sarah Dessen, novelist, resident, and UNC alum; comedian and resident Lewis Black; UNC Tar Heels Football Coach Mack Brown; Former UNC Tar Heels basketball players Phil Ford and Marcus Ginyard; Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger; Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils; Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver; and Orange County Commissioner Chair Renee Price.
Local mayors and Orange County Commissioner Renee Price remind visitors of the beauty they can find in Carrboro, Hillsborough, and rural Orange County. Along with a continuing loop of photos and videos showing off the sights of Orange County, free materials are provided to help visitors better plan their time in the area.
In pre-pandemic 2019, nearly half a million visitors attended area attractions and tours.
About the Welcome Center
The 4,000 square foot Welcome Center is in the heart of Chapel Hill at 308 W. Franklin Street, across the street from The Graduate Hotel. Limited onsite parking is available for guests. A nearby parking lot operated by the Town of Chapel Hill is located behind Chipotle Restaurant, in the Mallette Street Lot at 106 Mallette Street.
The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau is a division of Orange County and is funded through the 3% occupancy tax charged for hotel stays in Orange County. The annual budget is $1.8 million.
Social Media: #JTChapelHill
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.