Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Local leaders react to Colonial Williamsburg restructuring, layoffs

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced Thursday it will outsource management of its commercial operations. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation announced Thursday it will outsource management of its commercial operations. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

WYDaily broke the news Thursday morning that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will outsource management of its commercial operations, which include real estate holdings, retail stores and golf courses.

Seventy-one Colonial Williamsburg employees will lose their jobs and another 262 will have their employment transferred to other companies, the Foundation said.

Thursday’s announcement comes as Colonial Williamsburg attempts to save the last $684 million of its endowment and right its finances.

Under the current stresses facing the endowment, it would be exhausted in eight years. The “decisive action” will help secure the financial future of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation by 2019, Colonial Williamsburg President Mitchell Reiss told WYDaily in an interview Tuesday.

In 2014, the foundation lost a total of $62 million, or $176,000 every day, Reiss said.

“The commercial businesses have been running at a loss for many, many years,” he said. “The idea is we need to stabilize the endowment, so the endowment supports the Historic Area, education and the museum. It’s why people care and it’s why they come. It’s why they support us.”

Local politicians, businesses and organizations have weighed in on the sweeping changes to the historic attraction. Read their takes on the change below:

State Senator Tommy Norment, R-3RD District: “Absent a bold, comprehensive plan the leadership at Colonial Williamsburg is enacting, we face the loss of this national treasure. The large yearly losses and the significant drawdown of the endowment simply cannot continue. Were the current course to continue uninterrupted, the Foundation will run out of money not decades from now, but within a decade. Now that a balanced, carefully crafted approach has been presented to address the Foundation’s current financial situation, it is essential for our community to understand it, and ultimately to support it.”

Karen Riordan, President & CEO, Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance: “As difficult as these decisions are, for as much as they will unfortunately impact some employees right now, it would be worse for the large majority of CW employees and the future of the Foundation if they did nothing or continued to do the same thing. If CW does nothing or does more of the same, that will hurt every single person who works here, their families, and our entire community.”

College of William & Mary President Taylor Reveley: “Colonial Williamsburg is a national treasure, and it is William & Mary’s cherished neighbor and partner. It is essential that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation find a financially sustainable path forward. Those of us at the university wish CW great success and hope the plan laid out today will enable the Foundation to preserve Colonial Williamsburg’s core mission for generations to come.”

Catharine Broderick, Steven C. Rockefeller, and John D. Rockefeller IV, great-grandchildren of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation founder John D. Rockefeller, Jr.:  “Through the years, Colonial Williamsburg has had to adapt- its very survival depends on this.  Would our grandfather and great-grandfather John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR, Jr.) have endorsed the current change? Yes.  Because his primary goal was that Colonial Williamsburg would continue to tell the story of our Nation’s founding for generations to come.…It is essential that action is taken to ensure a sustainable pathway forward, thereby allowing Colonial Williamsburg to preserve, and even enhance, its core educational mission.”

Williamsburg City Manager Marvin Collins: “The Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area is central to the City’s strategic goal ‘to protect and enhance Williamsburg’s unique character and iconic landmarks.’ Once received, the City will evaluate any requests of our community partner and seek collaborative opportunities to advance mutual goals.”

John Boardman, Local 25 Union Leader: “Given the significant financial challenges facing Colonial Williamsburg, hard decisions are necessary—there just are no easy answers. Mitchell Reiss and his team have laid out a vision, and, more importantly, a detailed plan for their path forward. They have taken great care to treat the loyal and dedicated employees who make Colonial Williamsburg special with respect and dignity while helping ensure a brighter future.”

Don Pratt, President of Merchants Square Association, Owner of Aromas: “Losing $148,000 each day is staggering and must be addressed. Colonial Williamsburg must take these proposed steps to get its financial house in order and do what is necessary to preserve and sustain our nation’s most important historic site. Failure to do so would be devastating to the nation and to our beloved city. Under Mitchell Reiss’ and the Board’s leadership, it’s exciting to see that CW has a serious plan that will solve both near and long term financial challenges while reinforcing its core mission. They recognized that small steps won’t work and that they’d just keep managing from crisis to crisis.”

Bobby Braxton, former Williamsburg City Council member: “While change is never easy and will, in some cases, be painful — the loss of this national treasure would be far more devastating to the people who work at Colonial Williamsburg, to our community, and to the country that desperately needs to hear the stories they tell and the lessons they teach. The cost of not taking action is much greater than working to restructure and re-focus efforts.”

Benming Zhang, Williamsburg City Council member: “My visit to CW in 2012 left a strong impression on me when I visited William & Mary for the first time. CW drove my decision to live in Williamsburg after graduation. I know many residents share similar stories about the positive impact of Colonial Williamsburg on our community. I believe the CWF leadership made the correct and responsible call by focusing on their core mission to continue telling America’s story.

I look forward to joining my colleagues on City Council to collaborate on further policies with the senior CW leadership.”

Have you been affected by the changes? Share your thoughts at info@wydaily.com. 

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