A couple of weeks ago while visiting my family in East Texas, I took my parents out to lunch. My dad loves to chatter with servers, and this occasion was no exception. In the course of their conversation, our young server mentioned that she had attended UNT in Denton until recently. I piped in telling her UNT was also my alma mater and that I stayed in Denton after finishing school.

“So, you like Denton?” she asked me.

“I love it!” I replied. “It is the coolest place, great people and always something going on.”

“A lot of people say that,” she said. “But I never really got it.”

Perhaps she is a naturally boring girl. The way she told it, her time here was spent on campus, at the occasional fast food spot, and the grocery store now and then. She never visited the square and seemed oblivious to any of the attributes most of us take for granted as part of Denton life. What a sad story.

Here’s another. My friend Julie was volunteering in the information booth at the Holiday Lighting Festival this past December when a man commented on how much he and his family were enjoying the event.

“Is this a new festival?” he asked her.

“Not at all,” she said. “Holiday Lighting has been going on for 26 years.”

“Seriously? I’ve lived here my whole life and never heard of it!” he exclaimed.

A student. A life-long Dentonite. And these are not isolated cases. Sadly, we hear stories like these more often than we care to admit. But think about it. In today’s world of customized technology, there is no collective go-to for information. Gone are the days where we all heard the same thing on our small selection of local television channels. We don’t all read the same newspaper. We don’t all listen to the same local radio station. Every one of us has hundreds of channels, access to every news source in the world, and personally designed music stations with no commercial interruptions. Plus, social media has evolved into the word-of-mouth vehicle among peer groups. Tapping into every individual’s unique information source with my piece of news has become a monumental task.

Along that line of reasoning is one of the most exciting CVB projects of 2015. And it is closer than ever to becoming a reality in Denton. I am talking about a uniquely Dentonesque, experiential welcome center. This concept was born from the Leadership Denton class of 2012. For their project, these future leaders benchmarked Denton against cities of similar size and proximity to major metropolitan areas specifically relative to their visitor interaction points. Their research resulted in the development of an impressive business plan for a welcome/visitor center and Denton store in the downtown district. And it is a plan a lot of us have pursued ever since.

An effect of being an original independent destination is the fact that visitors seeking the Denton experience are not always astute at finding it. Our brand promises this cool, customizable vibe. So, how do they get into it? A truly experiential welcome center is the ideal solution.

For the past three years, CVB leadership has been on a quest to identify a location in the downtown area with adequate space and visibility to accomplish this mission. Our plan encompasses much more than brochure racks on a wall. Imagine a seven-day-a-week-twelve-hour-a-day Denton store selling found-nowhere-else Denton-centric souvenir items, local artists’ wares, and tickets to local events. Daily showcases featuring Denton talent and characters. And friendly, well-versed staff trained to guide guests, and Dentonites for that matter, into fun and complete Denton adventures shaped to their interests.

Now here is the awesome news. This dream is literally on the cusp of reality. We are working out details now, and the welcome center may quite possibly exist as early as the end of this year. Once it is open, I am confident stories like the Denton guy’s and the student’s will be much farther and fewer between.

The Denton experience is not to be missed! I find it tragic that anyone can be in our city, walk away and say, “I just don’t get it.” With a physical go-to location, people will have a place where they can discover the Denton they are looking for, even expecting. We will finally fill the information gap and be able to insure delivery of the promise we promote in the marketplace: We are Denton. Original. Independent.