The hot and muggy morning had no effect on the high spirits inside. Sporting what would be the daily attire in this place from now on, staff members in #dentoning T-shirts scurried about tending to last-minute details.

“Just fifteen more minutes!” someone shouted.

After years of planning, months of construction and many weeks of training, the moment had finally arrived.

“Everyone!” I shouted to halt the excited mayhem. “Gather ‘round.” Dentoning experts, managers, CVB and Chamber staff circled shoulder-to-shoulder. “It’s been a long journey, and thanks to every one of you, here we are!” I rallied.

Cheers erupted as bubble gum cigars were passed around to celebrate what felt to every one of us like the end of arduous labor.

“Ten, nine, eight…” the gang counted down. At zero, manager Jake Laughlin opened the door, and the birth of something beautiful opened to the city of Denton.

The scene above unfolded one year ago on June 21, when we officially opened the Discover Denton Welcome Center (DDWC) doors for the first time. It was our soft opening, planned to give us a little time to work out unforeseen kinks before our grand opening on the birthday of all birthdays, July 4th.

Isn’t it serendipitous that the grand opening celebration for our DDWC kicked off on July 4th? We intended opening much earlier last year, but build-out obstacles and Dentonesque tweaks along the way thwarted those plans. By the time we knew July 4th would be our date, we considered it akin to fate. A place designed to showcase our original, independent city opening officially on Independence Day just seemed right.

Local author and playwright Shay Youngblood makes the first purchase at the soft opening of the Discover Denton Welcome Center in 2016.

Local novelist, playwright and artist Shay Youngblood walked in the door while whooping and hugs were still being swapped among the staff. She didn’t know it as she crossed the threshold, but she made history that moment when she was the DDWC’s first visitor. She added a few whoops herself, and after browsing, oohing and ahhing, made the first Denton merchandise purchase: Denton postcards.

Since Shay’s inaugural visit, between June 21, 2016 and June 21, 2017, exactly 65,224 people have visited the DDWC. Yes, we count. The fact is that we count every body that walks in the door and track their origins. Dentonites are often surprised to learn that people visit our city from all over the world. Roughly 30 percent of our visitors are exactly that: visitors. We’ve talked with people from across the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Africa visiting for many reasons: some on walk-abouts, some coming to visit our North Texas horse farms, some to experience the music scene.

Another 40 percent of visitors are checking out the universities, taking care of business and learning about Denton as a possible new home or business location, or they have recently relocated to Denton and want to get to know their new hometown.

DDWC visitors are all over the board in their reasons for dropping in. While 70 percent of DDWC’s traffic is visiting from elsewhere, a strong 30 percent are Dentonites. The DDWC is Denton-central. This is the place where locals come to see what’s going on around town and how to go #dentoning: experiencing our unique sense of place.

Dunshay performs in the DentonRadio.com studio. (Photo courtesy of the Denton Chamber of Commerce)

Regardless of their origins, DDWC visitors love to shop the Denton-centric store, to the tune of just under $200,000 in gross sales in this first year, money reseeded into staffing and operating the DDWC.

DentonRadio.com has flourished in the DDWC. The increase in listeners, and now viewers as well, has increased more than 12,000 percent since the DDWC’s opening.

Thank you to the Leadership Denton class of 2012 for taking the DDWC dream and making it a viable business plan and to the City of Denton for embracing the dream and placing their confidence in the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to make it happen. Their investment, along with those of our anchor sponsors, is the water that makes this marvelous place float: Classic of Denton, Denton Municipal Electric, UNT, TWU, Denton Record Chronicle, Golden Triangle Mall, Rayzor Ranch Marketplace, Denton Community Theatre, and Frank Buck Zoo.

It takes a village to build and sustain something as integral to our city’s identity as the DDWC is today, home-base for delivering the original, independent Denton that people expect as a result of the CVB’s aggressive messaging in the grand marketplace.

Most especially, hats off to our awesome DDWC managers and staff for exceeding every goal and expectation in this year one. Happy birthday!

Visit the DDWC on the square (111 W. Hickory) on July 4th. We’ll open early for the 4th of July parade and party all day for ours and America’s birthday bash.