Juarez to open first visitors center north of border

Juarez to open first visitors center north of border

EL PASO, Texas - Violence brought Ciudad Juarez tourism nearly to a halt between 2008 and 2010, when more than 10,000 businesses closed their doors.

Now it appears the violence is declining and commerce is improving, so El Paso's sister city is doing its best to welcome tourists back.

Juarez on Saturday will open its first-ever visitors center on this side of the border. It'll be housed inside the El Paso Saddleblanket Co., with the goal of restoring tourist confidence before they even have to cross into Mexico.

"It kinda was our playground," said Saddleblanket President Luc Wells, "and we're hoping to re-establish that to where we all can go enjoy it, and everybody here in the border can prosper."

Wells said he had a room remodeled in the front of his store to house the new information center.

"We will not be charging them any rent whatsoever," Wells said.

Juarez Projects Manager Jose Ramos said the city is paying for billboards promoting the center outside El Paso city limits.

"The idea is that the people in Juarez, the people that work in Juarez day to day, that they start seeing money in their pockets," Ramos said.

The center will offer info about Juarez restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs and historic destinations. Some out-of-towners here for the Conference USA basketball tourney seemed to think it was a good idea.

"Yes, I would consider using a visitors center, just so I could get more information about it before I go," said Shelissa Morris.

"It scares me a little, and that's probably why I didn't go, but it still seems like a fun idea," said Alexis Barbaresi.

The visitors center will soon serve as a pick-up location for shuttles to and from Juarez.

"Once people start feeling comfortable about going across the bridge and across the river, going shopping, going to the restaurants and spending money, then that'll build on itself, and you'll get more of the restaurants and shops and markets back open," Wells said.

Wells said Juarez tourism isn't in competition for business with El Paso destinations.

"I think that's short-sighted to see it that way," Wells said. "In fact I think it's the other way. It's another big attraction that we're kind of missing right now, because people don't feel like they have the opportunity to go over there and do that, so they're not coming to the region at all."

"We are alive and well, and by that I think that we're promoting Juarez and El Paso, because we believe that we have to promote Juarez and El Paso together as a region to bring people to this area to compete with other cities in the world."

Wells said Saddleblanket has not been working with the El Paso visitor's bureau on this project but would be open to collaborating in the future. Destination El Paso said it was supportive of the new visitors center.

The U.S. Department of State still recommends people exercise caution in the northeast section of Juarez and advises against nonessential travel to other areas of the city.

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