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Concert organizers, indoor sports leagues and a dozen other groups that need a large indoor area for an event are not looking for a venue in James City County because such a venue does not exist there.
The James City County Board of Supervisors and Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance President and CEO Karen Riordan were in agreement Wednesday at a budget work session about the need for such a venue to help the county take the next step as a tourist destination.
“[We need] a place that’s larger than the current venues we have so we can attract someone to come and do a concert where we can sell 10,000 tickets,” Riordan said. “We don’t have that. It is a major weakness of this destination.”
Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) said the supervisors need to begin thinking about building a field house or a similar venue to open the county to hosting larger events.
He suggested talking to the General Assembly about using some or all of the $2-per-night room tax collected whenever a hotel night is sold in the county. That money is currently required by state law to go to the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, which uses the money to promote the area to tourists.
Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) agreed with McGlennon’s funding suggestion.
“I do think that we need a bigger venue that can host events,” he said. “That’s something that we severely lack as a destination.”
County Administrator Bryan Hill said he is in talks with an “outside person” to build a field house that features four basketball courts and seating capacity for up to 3,700. He also said there is little in the way of land in the county that could accommodate a larger venue. In past discussions, county officials have suggested the Warhill Sports Complex as a potential site for such a venue.
Along with land needed to build such a venue, funding is also elusive.
The supervisors are working toward setting the county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year — which runs from July 1 through June 2016 — and while it contains an 11 percent tax increase to fund what the county administrator has identified as five critical areas of need, it does not allocate any funding to build a large venue.
Riordan brought up the need for a venue when Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) asked her what she would wish for if there was any one thing she could have for the area. The Alliance serves as the chamber of commerce for Williamsburg and James City County and it also promotes tourism in the region.
She used her time during the work session to explain the Alliance’s plans for 2015 and why the county should allocate funds to the Alliance.
The budget proposal under consideration provides a combined $800,000 allocation for the Alliance — $700,000 for Alliance operations and $100,000 for the Christmas in Williamsburg promotion. That figure represents a $25,000 increase from the current fiscal year, though it falls short of the $900,000 the Alliance requested.
Riordan told the supervisors the Alliance is “extremely focused” on making sure the Williamsburg area has the attractions it needs to create a “world-class vacation.”
“Integral to that mission is focusing more on reasons to visit now,” she said. “We have to create a sense of urgency and make sure that people understand visiting the area, coming to James City County, is a different experience in July than it is in November.”
She said the Alliance has many events planned for the year that feature activity in James City County, including Williamsburg Fall Arts and the Williamsburg Harvest Celebration.
Hill, the county administrator, said he receives many emails from the Alliance promoting events but they don’t seem to be in James City County. He said that if he does not see more events in James City County in the immediate future, he is going to think twice about his recommended funding allocation for the Alliance in the future.
“[I’ve told the Alliance] that, and now they understand where we’re coming from, and if we don’t see some significant changes, then your budget will be significantly different [next year],” Hill said.
The Alliance’s funding from the county is allocated from the tourism fund. That fund uses money generated by hotel room sales to pay for tourism-related expenditures. It does not use any money from the county’s general fund, and it must be spent on tourism promotion.
The supervisors are set to vote on a budget for the next fiscal year April 28. That vote will determine the amount of funding the Alliance will receive.