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AUBURN — The wait is finally over.

Auburn's Equal Rights Heritage Center welcomed a flood of people on Tuesday as it opened to visitors for the first time. 

For Julia Langworth, the center has already made a lasting impression. 

"I'm visiting my sister this week, and she told me that [the center] was opening today," said Langworth. "I didn't know the history was so rich in the area ... I can't wait to check this place out." 

Mayor Micheal Quill thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for supporting the region's tourism development and said that the welcome center will attract newcomers to the area. 

"By strategically placing this center on the same street that William H. Seward and Harriet Tubman called home, the governor has raised our regional profile as a must-see destination that will welcome travelers for years and years to come," said Quill. 

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke at the event and said that Auburn, "an incredible, historical jewel," should be proud. 

"No other state can claim to be the home of so many movements," said Hochul. "But we still have work to do."

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Hochul asked gatherers to "continue to fight for the rights that are still not fully achieved in our country today." She said this past Friday she was in Buffalo, where a plan was unveiled to construct an African American Veterans Memorial.

According to City Councilor James Giannettino, tourism was a $101 million industry in Cayuga County last year, generating close to $13 million in tax revenue.  

Giannettino said 6,000 people visited the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in July and August. He also said the heritage center gives the city a "unique opportunity to welcome those people, direct them to all our sites and encourage them to dine and stay in Auburn." 

The goal of opening a welcome center, said Giannettino, was originally part of the Auburn Historical and Cultural Sites Commission's mission statement, and can be found in the city code.

"Today through the efforts of many people, this goal was realized with a world-class facility," he said. "We invite everyone to come check it out for themselves."

Pauline Copes Johnson, Harriet Tubman's great-great-grandniece, was also present and helped unveil a statue of Tubman donated by George and Mary Cuthbert and their children. 

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or dan.orzechowski@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan

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