MIAMI — After the state notified officials here during the second week in September, that they were going to foot the bill to remodel and convert all travel centers in Oklahoma, it didn’t take long for work on Miami’s visitors’ center to get underway.

One of the components of the project will be to convert the local center to touchless systems, including all doors and restrooms), something officials felt was vital during the pandemic.

Funding for the project comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“We have the mobile site and restrooms set up; the state is really trying to get us up to speed and to position Oklahoma as a state with very impressive travel centers,” said Amanda Davis, Executive Director of the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It will be a touchless facility - touchless entry and touchless restrooms - and there will be completely new restrooms for men and women, as well as a family restroom.”

The state plans to add a dog park and a picnic area outside the center in Miami in order for visitors to have a bigger area to park and walk around in.

The building itself is temporarily closed during the remodel. Operations have been moved into a portable trailer and restroom facility that features Internet access, etc., needed for daily operations.

It is estimated that the remodel will be finished by Dec. 31, the deadline for CARES funding.

“The shell of the building is in great shape,” Davis said. “It’s one of the newer and larger travel centers.”

“We’re pretty excited about that (the dog park). We do have a lot of people who utilize the area we do have.”

Drivers can now up pick up a Pikepass at the Miami center after setting up an online account, and there will soon be all new welcome signage and an expanded gift shop area where they will be able to showcase their merchandise better. “We’ve seen renderings of that and it’s really impressive,” Davis said.

The City of Miami operates the travel center almost exclusively from gift shop sales.

At a recent Miami city council meeting, Davis reported on the number of visitors that have come through the center recently.

Prior to COVID-19, the center was averaging 250,000 visitors yearly (20,833 a month). July 2020 saw 11,027 visitors locally, with 11,436 in August.

“COVID has been a kick in the gut for the center. It’s such a challenge every day, especially now with the remodel. We haven’t had the traffic that we’re used to having,” Davis said.

Hopes are that completion of the new center and recovery from the effects of COVID will mean more visitors here in the near future.