Simpson County’s new welcome center off of I-65 just before Exit 2 is now open to the public.

The welcome center was rebuilt to reflect a more modern look for visitors and was a joint effort between the Transportation Cabinet, the Finance Administration Cabinet and the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. According to a Kentucky Tourism release, the Finance Cabinet oversaw the construction of the new facility, while Transportation plans to manage the day-to-day operations, and tourism employees will provide staffing for the center.

“Simpson County is fortunate to have one of the eight Welcome Centers in Kentucky located at its border. As a major corridor into the state, Franklin is the first exit on I-65 and serves as the gateway into Kentucky for northbound travelers. Simpson County Tourism is proud to partner with the Franklin Welcome Center to offer information about opportunities for travelers in our area,” Simpson County Tourism Executive Director Amy Ellis said. “With the vaccine for COVID-19 in place, we expect to see a major increase in travel across the nation this spring. This is a fantastic time for the Franklin Welcome Center to reopen its doors.”

The facility, which is located at the 0 mile marker in Simpson County near the Kentucky-Tennessee state line, is situated “near a major artery for commercial traffic and others traveling north through the Bluegrass state,” according to the tourism release.

The center is a Federal style building featuring traditional red brick complemented with stone trim. Expansive front porches with comfortable bench seating and rocking chairs set ready to welcome travelers.

The newly designed center is ADA compliant and features expanded restroom capacity, including the option of family-friendly facilities favored by those traveling with small children. Visitors will find a variety of vending options at the new center as well as eco-friendly drinking fountains designed to accommodate refillable water bottles.

“While the architecture is impressive and reminiscent of many of the finer homes scattered across the Bluegrass, this modern facility was constructed with energy efficiency and ease of maintenance first in mind,” Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Holly M. Johnson said in the release.

Governor Andy Beshear made an announced of the official grand opening on Dec. 30.

“As we continue our historic battle against this global health pandemic, our administration is committed to ensuring travel around the commonwealth can safely resume,” Gov. Beshear said in the release. “As travel advisories are lifted and we all begin to move more freely, this new facility will provide the more than 44,000 vehicles per day that cross into the south central portion of Kentucky a safe and welcoming place to take a break.”

The release goes on to state that in response to COVID-19, federal and state public health officials have advised limited travel throughout the nation to help slow the spread of the virus. As the commonwealth continues to wage its battle against the virus, state officials have remained committed to ensuring travel and tourism resume safely.

Kentucky tourism serves as a major economic impact for communities in all 120 counties. The Simpson County welcome center will serve as a gateway to popular tourism destinations including Kentucky Downs, the National Corvette Museum, Mammoth Cave National Park, and many, more travel experiences unique to south central Kentucky.

“With the end of the pandemic now in sight, there is hope of new beginnings for Kentucky’s travel and tourism industry,” said Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Mike Berry in the release. “Throughout this pandemic, Kentucky has been laser focused on ensuring that we are ready to welcome visitors back to the commonwealth once travel can safely resume across the nation.”

The new Simpson County welcome center replaces a 1974 facility that was in need of major upgrades and costly repairs. The center closed in January 2020 for demolition and construction of the new facility, which includes enhanced safety features, high-mast lighting and expanded commercial parking. The center is expected to welcome nearly 60,000-70,000 visitors annually.

“This welcome center is more than bricks and mortar. Its an opportunity for us, as Kentuckians, to make a good first impression on many of those who will be traveling north into our state on I-65,” Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray said in the release.

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