SC welcome centers set for a makeover

LITTLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) - When you cross state lines into South Carolina you might notice things are changing. The state is working on a multi-million dollar improvement project that's going to directly affect a gateway to our area.

The South Carolina Welcome Center in Little River is the oldest one in the entire state, more than 50 years old, and it is the first look at the Grand Strand for drivers coming this way. The goal is to get you to come to do more than just use the restroom or grab a map.

The state Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism is preparing to spend more than $3 million to give welcome centers across the state makeovers, and the Little River location is on the list. The exact plans are still in the works, but the state wants to upgrade the centers for today's everyday traveler. It will have a more coffee shop like feel – and cater to technology most travelers use. You'll be able to do innovative things like charge your devices, or plug into large screens to learn more about the area.

Even if you don't pass through Little River, you can still take advantage - welcome centers in Dillon, Santee, Fort Mill, North Augusta, Blacksburg, Fair Play, and Hardeeville are also on the list.

But the Myrtle Beach Hospitality Association says this one will really matter for the Grand Strand.

"For our case, we still have a lot of people who decide, 'It's a beautiful day, let's go down to Myrtle Beach'", said Greene. "We have a lot of drive in markets from Wilmington, from other areas. And obviously it's a great access point in Little River coming into our community."

Plenty of people drive through the area and stop, more than 150,000 people came to the Little River center alone from 2012 to 2013. Once people step inside the centers, they want information about what to do and where to stay. The Little River center is lined with brochures, and this is where it gets profitable for local businesses. For example, more than 2,000 reservations were made last year just by drivers passing through. Overall, the latest records show more than $2 million were brought into the state last year through different welcome centers like the one in Little River.

Drivers won't notice any work happening just yet though. The state is working on the welcome center in Lanham now as the prototype, and then will work its way around to the other centers across the state. Expect to see some changes here as soon as this year, and it will take a couple years to complete all the upgrades.

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