Wednesday, July 6, 2022

City EDA aims for bigger, small town America-style Fourth of July

Fireworks behind the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg (WYDaily/Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Fireworks behind the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg (WYDaily/Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Known as the Revolutionary City, Williamsburg is loaded with history: Colonial-style houses, monuments, 18th-century character interpreters and horse-drawn carriages.

Every year on the Fourth of July, the city rings with the sound of booming fireworks as visitors and colonial interpreters watch from downtown Williamsburg.

But some city Economic Development Authority members are looking to make the Fourth of July bigger in the historic city.

EDA Chairman Adam Steely believes Williamsburg should “own” the Fourth of July — just as much as Philadelphia and Boston do.

While the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has traditionally organized Fourth of July events such as fireworks and a reading of the Declaration of Independence, some city officials feel the nonprofit should not be alone in the effort.

“For far too long, we’ve relied on Colonial Williamsburg to do all the heavy lifting,” Steely said.

Steely has proposed adding some Americana-themed activities reminiscent of small town America: a hot air balloon, popcorn and lemonade for a nickel and an egg toss competition.

“We don’t have an ocean,” Steely said of other Fourth of July events in the area. “There are things we don’t have, but what we do have is a sense of small town America. We can capitalize on that. It’s an asset.”

Details are not set in stone — the hot air balloon contract has not been signed and a possible downtown location is still tentative — but Steely is working with Colonial Williamsburg to see if there is a possible partnership for the Fourth of July.

The push to enhance the festivities began with the Downtown Vibrancy Study.

About a year and a half ago, the EDA was given the Downtown Vibrancy Study, which was completed by a consultant and offered suggestions on how to make the area around Colonial Williamsburg a place visitors will return to.

The study recommended supplementing holiday events with additional activities that will carry visitors throughout the Historic Area.

“The idea is you want to create centers where activities happen, and then drive people through creative lighting and interesting streetscapes,” Steely said.

Steely said building on to an existing event day is easier and cheaper than completely planning a separate event.

To fund the new Fourth of July activities, the EDA will set aside a previously unallocated $10,000 from a budget section specifically for events, Steely said.

“The money is a relatively modest investment, and payback should be trackable and financially sound,” Steely said.

Barbara Ramsey, a City Council member and council liaison to the EDA, said the goal is to get people to return year after year, as well as get people to stay longer.

City Council previously directed the EDA to find ways to leverage money from a small budget to make downtown more vibrant and engaging, using some recommendations from the Downtown Vibrancy Study.

While some holidays are already fairly successful — such as Grand Illumination — Ramsey said the Fourth of July was a holiday that could be targeted and enhanced.

In the past, Ramsey said there has been a midday gap between some July 4 Colonial Williamsburg events, leaving visitors to ask “What’s next?”

Ramsey has friends that come to Williamsburg yearly for the Fourth of July, and she was excited to tell them there may be new things to do on the holiday this year.

“It’s outside of the box but still very relevant to Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg’s charm and character,” Ramsey said.

Steely said he plans to gather data from the events on July 4 so a full recap can later be given to City Council to highlight how successful the event was.

“The idea was met with significant enthusiasm from the EDA,” Ramsey said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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