Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Here are some new things you might see in downtown Williamsburg in the near future

Cory Sproule and Christine Ward visited Merchants Square, and said they are thrilled to set up their shop in downtown Williamsburg. (Courtesy Cory Sproule)
Cory Sproule and Christine Ward visited Merchants Square, and said they are thrilled to set up their shop in downtown Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy Cory Sproule)

Overhead lights strung across the street, a pavilion for a budding business, and events that draw large crowds.

Those are some of the ideas the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority has in mind for the rebranding of downtown.

The EDA presented their recommendations for improvements to downtown to Williamsburg City Council Monday afternoon, after being tasked with providing ideas on how to spend $150,000 earmarked for the implementation of the Downtown Vibrancy Plan.

The plan was based on ideas brought forth by consultants who presented the Downtown Vibrancy Study last winter.

Downtown is roughly defined in the study as the area bounded by Richmond Road, Lafayette Street, Boundary and Nassau Streets, encompassing Merchants Square, the Williamsburg Library, The Municipal and Community Buildings, and the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

A goal of the city has been to improve downtown as a destination for residents, college students and tourists, by becoming more pedestrian-friendly and offering more reasons to visit and stay.

“We all agree there’s untapped things we could be doing to make what is already a cool place to be a stronger destination and attract more people to spend more dollars and have a good time,” Vice Mayor Doug Pons said.

The EDA convened three times between July and August to come up with their ideas.

Chairman Adam Steely presented four main ideas to council Monday, including street enhancements, grants for special events, the creation of a downtown business association and updates to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The EDA recommended stringing lights across streets in downtown in order to connect businesses and improve the area’s walkability.

Steely said a common refrain from William & Mary students is that downtown is dark and static at night, and the EDA feels overhead lights would change that perception.

“The economic spinoff from that comfort should be dramatic,” he said.

He also said the EDA has been in contact with electrical contractors to weigh design options.

A downtown business association could represent the interests of numerous downtown restaurants and shops, both within Merchants Square and beyond.

An update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan would entail coordination between the EDA and Planning Commission, with City Council granting final approval.

Steely also said the EDA would like to spend money to bolster existing events in the coming year, such as An Occasion for the Arts or Colonial Williamsburg’s July 4th programming, rather than initiating new events.

One new idea presented was for tailgates in the parking lot of the Triangle Building on William & Mary football homes games.

The EDA’s proposal focused on short-term ideas, rather than longer-term visions, in order to begin the implementation this fall.

“This ($)150,000 was for this year, and to affect change fairly quickly,” City Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey said.

Council weighed the proposals and offered feedback, agreeing that they would like to see a finalized proposal for lighting before approving funding.

Council agreed to vote on whether to approve $50,000 in funding to support downtown events at their Thursday meeting.

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