Northeast Oklahoma debuts newly remodeled I-44 travel center | Local News

MIAMI, Okla. — The welcome mat for Oklahoma visitors on Interstate 44 has reopened after a renovation costing more than $1 million.

With new touchless restrooms and features designed to accommodate social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the Northeast Oklahoma Travel Information Center is located at mile marker 314 near the Miami exit. The $1 million to $1.5 million used for the renovations came as the state used CARES Act funds to help promote the tourism industry.

Northeast Oklahoma debuts newly remodeled I-44 travel center

The Northeast Oklahoma Travel Information Center has been remodeled using CARES Act money. Globe | Roger Nomer

“Our welcome centers literally serve as the primary rest stops for the crossroads of America,” Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said. “Ensuring they are safe and sanitary was a public health priority for my office.”

Pinnell said the renovation project, designed in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, included both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 changes. Items such as signage were funded by the state department.

“This project will also help better promote our tourism industry in Oklahoma, the third-largest industry in the state, employing over 100,000 Oklahomans,” Pinnell said. “The tourism industry in this country is not in a recession; it’s in an actual depression. We’re excited that these centers are now much better marketing tools to help promote the tourism industry and our attractions across the state.”

Celebrating the renovations

Officials with the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city hosted a grand reopening last week.

Amanda Davis, executive director of Visit Miami OK, said the renovations began approximately 90 days ago. They include touchless entrances to the center, touchless entrances and fixtures in the restrooms, an expanded gift shop area to allow for social distancing, a dog park, and expanded signage to include a new mural about local baseball legend Mickey Mantle.

The center is operated by the city of Miami via a contract with the state and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. In pre-COVID-19 days, center staff saw more than 250,000 visitors each year.

Northeast Oklahoma debuts newly remodeled I-44 travel center

The Northeast Oklahoma Travel Information Center has been remodeled using CARES Act money. Globe | Roger Nomer

“The renovations are a benefit to us because it’s made the center so much nicer to drive up to,” Davis said. “It’s all about the visitor and their experience. We’re excited to be back in the building.”

Davis said she’s particularly excited about one of the renovation features: a new plaza that includes Oklahoma and Route 66 decor, designed as a selfie station. Signage encourages people to use a variety of hashtags when uploading photos, including #MiamiOK, #Route66, #TravelOK and #OKHereWeGo.

“It’s an area where people can get out, stretch their legs a little bit,” Davis said. “We hope to see a lot more activity on social media because of this.”

The center’s gift shop includes a variety of “Made in Oklahoma” items, or items that are unique to the state. Davis said staff keep an assortment of Oklahoma T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts or hoodies in stock.

‘Planting seeds’

Davis hopes the center will encourage people to get off the interstate and drive into Miami to get gas, eat food or find lodging. She said the No. 1 item searched for as people enter the state is “local ATM” as they realize money is needed to travel the turnpike.

Much of the center’s success, she said, is geared around word-of-mouth as friends tell other friends about their experiences in the Miami area and the entire Grand Lake region.

“We see it as planting seeds, as people plan and make their travel decisions,” Davis said. “I think in the next 60 to 90 days, as the weather gets nicer, and as more people get the COVID vaccine, they will have more confidence to travel.”

The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, allowing staff to deep clean and sanitize the facility at the end of each day. A Facebook page, @travelNEOklahoma, promotes specials and new merchandise.

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