gmhTODAY 26 gmhTODAY June July 2019 - Page 88

Gilroy Welcome Center Becomes One of Eighteen State Designated Centers California's Newest Visitor Center Written By Kimberly Ewertz J ane Howard, Executive Director of the California Welcome Center Gilroy, beams with pride as she talks about the center and its evolution over the years. Its greatest achievement to date: being selected as one of only 18 California state welcome centers. The journey to claim that designation began last year when Visit California decided to open four additional centers. “They [Visit California] wanted some more cen- ters throughout the state and figured that our location, not only being in an outlet center but right along the free- way, would be an ideal location,” Pam Gimenez, the center’s Visitor Service Manager, said. In 2001, a 30-page Request for Proposal was submitted by the Welcome Center to Visit California. It included letters of recommendation from the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corporation, (EDC), Gilroy Gardens, Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, City Administrator Gabe Gonzalez, the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, and Casa de Fruta co-owner Gene Zanger—all praising the center’s success over the years. “They had seen how successfully we 88 had operated this location as the Gilroy Welcome Center…they knew we could do it,” Howard said. Once the proposal was accepted the next step was a site visit. Three Visit California representatives inspected the center as well as the entire Outlet location, checking for easy access to highways, and quality visitor amenities. Howard and her staff made sure the center lived up to its name. “Our mayor was here to welcome them, the city administrator was here to welcome them, Visit Gilroy board chair, and vice chair,” Howard said, her smile widening with the memory. “I mean we had a welcoming committee.” After receiving the official notification that Gilroy was being considered as a state welcome center, there was one final step before receiving the official designation. Howard and her staff had 30 days to detail all necessary changes needed to reflect the center’s new designation. No longer was the center representing Gilroy alone, with the new designation the center was representing all visitor destinations throughout the entire state of California. Included in those changes was new signage, inside and out, representing GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN june/july 2019 the name change from the Gilroy Welcome Center, to California Welcome Center Gilroy. An expanded display of brochures representing all visitor destinations throughout the Golden State, and the installation of a 42-inch monitor to display promotional videos of those locations, were also needed. Howard’s confidence in her staff’s ability to implement those changes in the designated time given convinced the board to approve the proposal. Soon after submitting the proposal, the center received its official designation. To celebrate the victory and the renaming of the center an Open House was held, complete with a ribbon- cutting ceremony. “It was so much fun. . .I would say we probably had close to 150 to 200 people here,” Gimenez said, crediting the large turnout to Howard. “She’s so beloved by so many people in this town,” Gimenez said. “She’s very well connected, she does everything, she’s just so sweet and nobody wants to let her down. I truly believe that’s why we had so many people.” Howard’s passion for Gilroy began when she and her husband Al, owner of E-Z Clean Car Wash on Monterey Street, first moved to Gilroy in 1980