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Nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Ian damaged the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau’s offices at 1700 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte, repairs were completed, and in March the staff returned to the Murdock Plaza mall. 

On June 12, the agency hosted an open house for its newly renovated space, which also contains individual offices for staff members. 

Inside the entryway is a bucket with beach towels, and the Visitors Room displays, among other objects, snorkel equipment on the wall. There, visitors can watch a video of things to do in Charlotte County. 

The beach scene resounds throughout the gathering spaces and conference room, where there are giant photos of Charlotte County places and activities one can enjoy. 

Various officials dropped by during the grand opening, including Commissioner Joe Tiseo, county workers and members of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce. 

The major benefit of being open to the public is that first-time visitors to the area can drop by and learn what there is to see and do in the area, said Lois Croft, public relations manager for the VCB. 

Tourism Director Sean Doherty said that although the staff was able to continue business as usual by working remotely, they didn’t have face-to-face interaction to allow for better communication and teamwork. 

Ian damaged the mall’s roof, and work was started at the opposite end from where the VCB offices are, which delayed staff from returning to their space, Croft said. 

Initially, the county provided space for the VCB at the Administration Building in Port Charlotte, but that arrangement ended after several months, she said. 

Croft said the mall owner’s insurance company paid for the new roof, and the county insured the interior of the VCB’s leased space, which sustained major damage and had to undergo extensive repairs and renovation. 

She didn’t provide the amount spent on the interior renovation costs since it didn’t come out of the VCB budget. The only thing the VCB paid for with its own money was a new conference table. 

Now that the public can return to the county’s official Visitors Center, they can pick up maps and brochures that list hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and things to do in Charlotte County, including boating, paddleboarding, fishing, golfing, pickleball, sports and more. 

The motto of the VCB is “Our best side is outside.” 

That was a resounding theme during the pandemic, when residents of northern states flocked to Florida to enjoy the state’s various outdoor activities.  

Despite the pandemic, the VCB’s Tourist Development Tax dollars, which continued to be added to the county’s coffers, is part of the reason why the county’s economy has been strong, officials said. 

Now that parks, fields, courts and the new Charlotte Sports Park stadium, all of which sustained damage from Hurricane Ian, are open, the VCB is expected to have a banner year. 

The Tampa Bay Rays returned this year for their spring training, and special events, including sports tournaments, the opening of Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor and the restoration of hotel and bed and breakfast rentals, are once again contributing to the county’s overall economy. 

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