Photo courtesy of Downtown Sanford Inc.

By Charles Petty

As economic development continues to boom locally – even in the midst of the COVID-19 Delta variant surge – Sanford and Lee County have seen an uptick in tourism and visitors arriving to take in the many cultural, recreational, historic, and other significant sites the community has to offer.

The Sanford Tourism Development Authority helps to facilitate information to the public about local attractions and is responsible for the marketing publications and information regarding tourism as well as a bi annual visitor guide to the area.

Wendy Bryan, the TDA’s executive director, has been with the organization since 2020. Having worked locally both in public relations and education, Bryan has a love of promoting Sanford and making sure the community is proudly represented, and she understands there is a culture of tourism in the community that attracts visitors from all over the country.

“There is not one tourist profile that fits all,” she said. “We have many unique people who visit Lee County for a variety of tourism reasons.”

The TDA took a big step forward on Wednesday, as the organization held a ribbon cutting for a new permanent space – which includes a welcome center – at the old depot building in downtown Sanford’s Depot Park. The space will also be home to new offices for Downtown Sanford, Inc. Several local leaders and volunteers attended the event.

Started in 2017, the TDA is overseen by a board that works to ensure tourism efforts are promoted inside and outside the community. The state tracks tourism dollars and along with the board helps to allocate funds for the authority.

Events like the upcoming Carolina Indie Fest, shows at the Temple Theatre, golf outings in the spring and fall, a booming wedding venue industry (80 percent of weddings held locally in 2020 were from out of town), conventions and showcases at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, and even visits from WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler highlighting local attractions all combine to draw larger and larger numbers of visitors every year.

“There is not one tourist profile that fits all,” Bryan said. “We have many unique people who visit Lee County for a variety of tourism reasons.”

A new attraction that the tourism board has produced for the Fall season is Boo and Brew, a self-guided, interactive brewery and ghost tour that is told in multiple parts using a phone app called Otocast which leads visitors through downtown to restaurants and shops along the way.

Roughly five thousand people went on the tour in 2020, so expectations are high for the 2021 iteration.

“Data has shown us that people are looking for smaller towns to visit,” she said. “We have had positive publicity over the past year, and our public art displays and local businesses have also been amazing with putting out awareness on how great our community is to come tour.”

There are several volunteer opportunities with the TDA (especially for high school students involved in Southern Lee High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism). Potential volunteers can contact the authority office at (919) 718-4659, emailing or visiting