OCEAN CITY - With the completion of the Roy Gillian Welcome Center off the inbound side of the Route 52 causeway, the city's information hub is now a destination itself.

In addition to serving as a distribution point for information about events and brochures from dozens of local businesses, the $1 million building offers a birdwatching area and an elevated observation deck with views of both sides of the intracoastal waterway. Its parking lot provides easy access to a fishing pier as well as kayak and boat launch areas built as part of the larger causeway project.

Pat Lehmann, of Bucks County, Pa., recently visited the welcome center with her family. The longtime Ocean City visitor was in awe as she gazed out toward Beasley's Point from the observation deck.

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"It's gorgeous. It's just amazing," Lehmann said. "It's a beautiful day, too. We picked a great day."

The new welcome center, named for the former Ocean City mayor, held its grand opening Sept. 20, drawing to a close a project a dozen years in the making. While the facility and its amenities have been open to the public since May, improvements such as the installation of displays detailing aspects of the city's history and the addition of furniture continued up to the grand opening.

The center drew thousands of visitors each day during the peak of the summer season, Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michele Gillian said, though the chamber hasn't released official numbers. This amounts to about double what she saw at the previous location, she said.

The new causeway and welcome center pass the eye test for Dennis DiOrio, who owns DiOrio's Bar in Somers Point just a few blocks in from the bridge.

An Ocean City resident, DiOrio drives the span four or five times a day, and is constantly amazed at how heavily trafficked its pedestrian path is. During the summer, he and a few regulars began comparing rough counts of the one-way traffic. One patron counted close to 200 people on one trip, he said.

DiOrio set foot in the welcome center for the first time Sept. 26 and was impressed.

"When you come to Ocean City (over the causeway), you get that same feeling you're going someplace special," he said. "(The welcome center) is a special project they did, and the amenities are way more than anybody could have dreamed of,"

The welcome center was expected to open last October, but its soft opening was delayed to Memorial Day Weekend due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy and other fall storms.

The state government organized committees made up of citizens of Ocean City and Somers Point to put together a wishlist for the new causeway when the project was initiated a dozen years ago. The finished project matches the wishlist almost to an item, Gillian said.

Gillian, whose office is inside the new center, said she can't think of a better way to welcome tourists and locals alike to the city's shores.

"I think it just gives you a new look at Ocean City, and, you know, how lucky we are to live in a resort and community like this," Gillian said.

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