Gov. Kay Ivey cuts the ribbon on the new welcome center in Lanett

Published 8:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2022

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LANETT — Alabama Governor Kay Ivey cut the ribbon Friday morning to officially conclude a major project that has been more than two years in the making.

“It’s a pleasure to be here in Chambers County today to open Alabama’s newest welcome center,” she said.

The new building could be rightfully called the Taj Mahal of Chambers County.

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It’s a large, beautiful, visitor-friendly building. Its construction took longer than expected due to the COVID-19 shutdown and delays caused by bad weather, but what’s there now was worth the wait.

“We treat people like the way they want to be treated in Alabama,” Ivey said. “Alabama is the most welcoming state in the Union, and I am proud of that.”

The governor said Alabama had just completed one of its best-ever years for tourism in 2021 and was well on its way to another good year in 2022.

“We are proud to call Alabama our home,” she said. “May God continue to bless you and the great state of Alabama.”

Ivey delivered the remarks from a special Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) stage that was set up in front of the new welcome center.

She was the principal speaker for the opening. Others who spoke from the stage included the state’s tourism director, Lee Sentell; DeJarvis Leonard of ALDOT, and all three members of the local legislative delegation, State Senator Randy Price and State Representatives Debbie Wood and Bob Fincher.

Sentell described Governor Ivey as the founder of Rebuild Alabama and the state’s best promoter of tourism. “She knew that the welcome center in Lanett had been here since the 1970s and was not the best welcoming mat for the state,” he said.”The governor worked with John Cooper, Stacy Glass and Shannon Jones of ALDOT to put together a template of what Alabama welcome centers should look like.”

Other new welcome centers could well be based on the Lanett model.

The chief architect for the new building, Barry Robinson of Robinson & Associates Architects, Montgomery, was present for the event and walked inside the new building for the first time on Friday. He’s a Florida native and a graduate of Tuskegee University.

“Our governor has the highest approval rating of any governor in the South,” Sentell said. “She has the highest approval rating of any female governor in the U.S. We don’t want to share her with any other state.”

That remark drew some loud applause.

Sentell went on to say that Governor Ivey could make some history this year. Should she be re-elected this year, she would be the only governor in state history to serve 10 consecutive years in office.

Sentell said that former Governor Lurleen Wallace had been her mentor. They were good friends when Ivey was a student at Auburn University in the 1960s. He said that Ivey was “an inspiration to us all and a great supporter of tourism.”

“It’s my pleasure to introduce the best governor Alabama has ever had,” he said.

“What a beautiful day this is and what a beautiful building we now have in Chambers County,” said Senator Price. “Governor Ivey, thank you for your leadership and for putting this project together. This place in Chambers County will show visitors how great a state Alabama is to visit. This is a great day for Chambers County and a great day for the state of Alabama.”

State Rep. Debbie Wood thanked the governor on making the new welcome center a priority.

“When visitors come here they will see that Alabama is a great place to stay, play and shop.”

Wood recognized members of the welcome center staff and thanked them for the work they do. They included Director Laura Smith, Melinda Edwards and Linda Allen. Also present was Patrick Greenia, a former member of the staff who is now the director of the Alabama welcome center on I-20 in Cleburne County.

“They are the faces of our state,” Wood said of the staff. “They are the first people visitors meet when they enter our state and stop at the welcome center,” she said. “In some cases, they may be the only people from Alabama they will meet on their trip. I appreciate them so much. They do all they can to make a good first impression of our state to visitors.”

Wood joked a bit with someone who no doubt was one of the happiest people at the ribbon-cutting – Mayor Jamie Heard of Lanett. “You got this beautiful new building in your city and didn’t have to spend a dime for it,” she said.

That comment drew a round of laughter.

“I want to thank DeJarvis Leonard of the Alabama Department of Transportation for being here today,” Wood said. “It was a great decision to build this new center, and we thank ALDOT for getting us something we can see and use.”

Rep. Fincher thanked the governor and ALDOT for bringing the new welcome center to Chambers County. “It’s a prototype of what we can have at other locations in our state,” he said. “It’s a gateway to interesting places to see and things to do in our state. I-85 takes you to historic places like Cusseta and Opelika, Auburn University, Tuskegee University and the motherlode of state history, Montgomery. We are thrilled to have this day.”