His friend Paul Waak, a painter and illustrator from Berlin, said the same. So did installation artist Nari Kim, from Seoul, South Korea, and sculptor Zach Trow from Portland, Ore.
"My girlfriend lives in Philly, but I've never been to the Barnes," said Trow, noting that the art - and the various controversies involving the Barnes - spurred his interest.
Kim Thomas and her husband, Jeff, of Jobstown, N.J., had been to the Barnes several times when it was in Merion. Friday marked their first visit to the new site.
"I'm a proponent that [the collection] should be here and attract more people," Kim Thomas said.
"There's too much here not to make it a worldwide destination," her husband added. "You come to Philadelphia, this is a place you want to visit."
Derek A. Gillman, Barnes executive director and president, said he was really pleased by the attendance figures. (Only one day was not filled to capacity in 2012 - the day after Hurricane Sandy.) "And we've opened strongly in 2013."
Perhaps even more dramatic than the visitor increase is the increase in Barnes memberships. In 2009, the foundation had about 400 members entitled to free admission and other perks. That number has skyrocketed - along with ticket prices in Philadelphia ($18 for adults, up from $5 in Merion) - to 25,043 last week, officials reported.
According to officials at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp., the internationally anticipated opening probably served as a catalyst for a significant bump in attendance at other major Parkway institutions. The tourism group did not have raw numbers available, but said Parkway venues as a whole had a 28 percent increase in attendance last year.
Tourism officials cited the opening of the renovated Rodin Museum and the "Visions of Arcadia" exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as major contributors to the rise. The Franklin Institute's "Dead Sea Scrolls" show was also a big draw, they said.
Tourism officials contrasted the rising Parkway visitor numbers with historic-district attendance. A Bruce Springsteen show at the National Constitution Center did not perform up to expectations last year, and attendance at the National Museum of American Jewish History has flagged. Overall, attendance at Independence National Historical Park sites edged up 0.6 percent in 2012 to 3,594,550.
Tourism officials said hotel occupancy would come in about 74 percent for the full year (final numbers are not yet available), which would mark a return to pre-recession levels.
By any measure, the Barnes opening was a major factor in the city's economic and cultural resurgence, officials said.
The move marked the culmination of years of lawsuits and controversy over gallery operations in Merion, its only home for nearly 90 years. Established by Albert C. Barnes, a patent-medicine king, voracious art collector, and famously difficult personality, the foundation had struggled to attract visitors in the face of complaints from its immediate neighbors on Latchs Lane and visiting restrictions imposed by Lower Merion Township.
In 2010-11, the last year of operations in Merion, when the township eased restrictions in an effort to stave off the move, attendance was 90,000; previously, about 62,400 visited annually.
Attendance is still sharply restricted in Philadelphia, and timed tickets are required for admission. Most slots are taken two to four weeks in advance, although some tickets are held back to accommodate a small number of walk-ups. The foundation is now booking dates throughout 2013.
Gillman and other Barnes officials said demand had been so great the gallery was searching for ways to extend its hours to accommodate as many visitors as possible. The museum is open until 10 p.m. on Fridays, and live music and drinks are available.
Officials plan additional late evenings this year. On Valentine's Day, for instance, a party/program will run from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and another late evening is scheduled for Memorial Day. Gillman said the high attendance had led to strong sales at the gallery shop; contributions also have been solid.
"There's been strong attendance," Gillman said. "There's been strong philanthropic support. The store is doing slightly better than anticipated."
But he noted there had been some glitches, largely fixed, with computer systems. "We know it's incumbent on us to run this place really well." Visitors, he said, have high expectations.
Contact Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @SPSalisbury on Twitter