City, County Applying for Joint Economic Development Zone

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This map shows the proposed enterprise zone. (Courtesy James City County)
This map shows the proposed enterprise zone. (Courtesy James City County)

The City of Williamsburg has agreed to work with James City County to land a joint enterprise zone from the state, a designation that allows grants, fee waivers and reductions and tax incentives for businesses located within the zone.

The Williamsburg City Council voted unanimously to support the joint plan at its meeting Thursday. The James City County Board of Supervisors backed the plan at its June 24 meeting.

Economic development experts in both the city and county believe the designation will help attract new businesses to the area. The enterprise zone designation runs for 10 years, with two five-year renewals available.

The process is competitive for an established number of enterprise zones, and many more localities submit applications than there are available zones. City Director of Economic Development Michele DeWitt said typically three localities apply for every one available zone.

“Our odds are probably 30 percent or so,” DeWitt said.

The county, which currently has an enterprise zone designation that will expire at the end of the year, and city are vying for one of four slots that will be up for grabs in 2016.

The applications for enterprise zones are judged on a scale of 1,500 points involving several factors, including the so-called “distress level” of the applying locality, which measures fiscal stress, unemployment, median household income and the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches. James City County has one of the lowest distress levels in the state, while Williamsburg falls in the middle.

The local distress level counts for up to 750 points of the 1,500 point total, with the remaining 750 points coming from other factors, including general economic conditions, barriers to development and existing economic development efforts.

The city and county will receive an extra 50 points for filing a joint application, but will lose at least that many points, due to James City County’s lower distress level.

The joint proposal identifies locations in Williamsburg and James City County where the financial incentives would be in place. In the city, the zones would be concentrated in the Northeast Triangle along Capitol Landing Road and Second Street, and midtown around the Williamsburg and Monticello shopping centers.

The county would retain much of its zone, removing parts of Grove that have developed residentially, and would add areas off Jamestown Road, including the Colony Square Shopping Center.

The city has prioritized redevelopment of midtown and the Northeast Triangle in recent years, and has invested in underground infrastructure to improve the areas’ appearances. The city also purchased distressed properties along Capitol Landing Road in hopes of redeveloping them. One of the purchased properties, the Lord Paget Motel, will reopen in the fall as Copper Fox Distillery.

This is the third year Williamsburg has submitted an application for an enterprise zone. In 2013, the city, James City and York counties submitted a joint application, but it was not selected. The city submitted an application individually in 2014, after low distress scores from the counties pulled down the overall score, but was again unsuccessful.

DeWitt said filing a joint application with James City County was a strategic move on the city’s part. The county currently has an enterprise zone designation on industrial lands near Toano and in Grove that will expire at the end of the year.

“Our hope is, joining with James City County … they’ve used their zone so effectively, that we hope the fact that their zone is ending that the state will look favorably on letting them keep the zone by giving them a new one jointly with us,” DeWitt said. “We hope it’s not three strikes and you’re out.”

The application is due to the state Aug. 1.

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