YORK COUNTY — York County Board of Supervisors reviewed the Williamsburg Sports & Recreational Center presentation by the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority (HTRFA) on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
This is the same presentation that went in front of the James City County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 28.
HTRFA is a governmental entity formed to evaluate, and if feasible, oversee the construction and management of recreational and tourism facilities.
The proposed 200,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility would be located across from the current Williamsburg Visitor Center and include basketball, volleyball and pickleball courts, a climbing rock wall, “ninja gym” and conversion turf system. The complex would also incorporate meeting space and food and beverage areas.
“What you are about to see tonight is something that no one of these three localities could do by itself, arguably no two of these three localities could do by themself, so if we are going to do this we have to all be in it together,” explained York County City Administrator Neil Morgan, who led the presentation.
Morgan stated that the HTRFA feels, at this point, that they understand what this project will look like and what would be involved for all three communities should each decide to move forward and are ready to proceed.
The projected cost for the center is $80 million, a price tag that has risen from the original proposal.
In determining the location for the facility, Morgan stated, “Every locality, kind of, maybe would be a little more excited about it if it was in their community. And yet, we all understood it needed to be somewhere that was convenient, for not only all the residents, but also made sense from the tourist perspective.”
As to the selected location, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation would lease out the property for the sports complex near the existing Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.
Morgan noted from a community usage perspective, the facility is within reasonable driving distance to York County citizens.
Explaining that the project is based on projections, Morgan stated that, based on proximity, there is some belief that James City residents, over time, would have a higher percentage of community usage than York. Stressing that usage remains to be seen, there would be a mechanism in place and “if that materializes, James City would be prepared to pay a slightly larger part of the operating subsidy than York. However, for the most part, we would be partners and share.”
According to Morgan, York County will not have to be concerned with the capital financing to build the complex.
“Williamsburg’s principal role is to provide the bulk of the capital financing supplemented by the capital funds the HTRFA received directly from the Maintenance of Effort funds,” he explained. “So, what the two counties [James City and York] would have to do to make this work is come up with the operating subsidy for the facility. While still significant, it is a much less significant task than financing an $80 million building.”
James City and York counties will add their main financial contributions to the operating expenses, said Morgan.
“We want to be very conservative in our approach to funding the operating commitment. We don’t want to lowball what we think it’s going to cost and then find ourselves in a problem a few years down the road with insufficient funds,” said Morgan, adding that the concept for York and James City would be to ‘overfund’ in the short term and build reserves, so that, over time, they can lower operating cost.
Board of Supervisors member Thomas Shepperd and Morgan discussed the division of tax dollars based on lodging, restaurants and retail space regarding the tourism fund being used to offset the cost.
“All of our taxes are enhanced by tourism,” stated Morgan, “So, if this project strengthens tourism by 10% in Greater Williamsburg, then in a macro-sense we benefit.”
During the question and answer session, Stephen Roane, York County board member, stated, “If we start having to pull in tourism dollars from other sources, or heaven forbid, we get into our normal budget to pay for it, that is a huge problem, and we need to put some controls in place to make sure its paid for by its own success.”
Roane is also opposed to the 30-year lease, saying the facility “needs to prove itself before we make a commitment like that.”
Shepperd responded that we “can’t guarantee anything. We know what we got and know the money we put in today. We know what the agreement is going to be. Williamsburg is going to build the place, and then, with help from James City County, we will keep it operating. But, the whole thing is predicated on a conservative assessment of what we’re generating in revenue.”
Morgan acknowledged there are risks with the project, but this plan is the best way to address economic goals while building a facility that will have positive benefits for York County citizens.
“When all this started, the purpose was to create a new base attraction for the Greater Williamsburg tourism economy to supplement Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. Something like this that brings family-oriented teams, clubs, sports activities (and) is the kind of attraction that we need to keep our tourist economy strong.”
Morgan continued, “The second reason is, there is no way, I think, York County would ever build an indoor facility like this for our citizens. Even though we would all agree it would be a great asset. [This] creates nice things for our residents.”
York County Board of Supervisors member, Sheila Noll expressed her feelings, stating, “There has been a need out there for a long time. It’s a vision. And, you have to have a vision for what the future may hold. I support this completely.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 13, HTFRA will present to the City of Williamsburg.
View the York County Board of Supervisors meeting here.