Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Williamsburg becomes Commercial District Affiliate of Virginia Main Street — talks hiring consultant to lead organization

Prince George Street was quiet on an evening in December 2018. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Prince George Street was quiet on an evening in December 2018. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

The city of Williamsburg just got another tool in its toolbox to promote local business and a positive visitor experience in downtown.

The city recently received a letter from the Virginia Department of Housing stating it is now a Commercial District Affiliate of the Virginia Main Street program, which will now allow community representatives to attend Main Street programs and receive assistance to become a Virginia Main Street community.

Then, on Wednesday, the city’s Economic Development Authority approved $28,000 to hire a Virginia Main Street consultant to lead the charge in developing a downtown business association and become a Virginia Main Street community.

“It’s clear that staff doesn’t have the time capacity to take this on,” EDA Vice Chairman Rick Overy said.

Main Street is a place residents need to “want” to go — Main Streets need to be vibrant hubs of activity, community events and commerce, Kyle Meyer, a community revitalization specialist with the Virginia Main Street program said during an April EDA meeting.

Being a Main Street locality means the state can provide resources to local businesses and localities aimed at helping boost their downtown economies.

Being an affiliate also means the city is eligible to apply for a state grant only open to affiliate communities, the Aug. 23 letter reads.

Part of the Virginia Main Street program requires the locality to set up a downtown business association that is a separate nonprofit led by its members. 

The Main Street consultant job could pay about $35 an hour for about 16 hours per week for a yearlong period. That person will be tasked with helping interview stakeholders in downtown Williamsburg, develop downtown business association bylaws and more. 

“There’s a lot of groundwork to do,” Overy said. “There’s a lot of coordination.”

During the meeting, the EDA discussed one candidate in particular.

The EDA voted to approve the hire of Stephanie Slocum, a Williamsburg resident who has led various area nonprofits and consulted for Main Street program localities including Surry County, Colonial Beach, Brunswick, Maine and more.

The EDA approved Slocum, although the consultant position did not go through the public procurement process, Economic Development Director Michele Mixner DeWitt said at Wednesday’s meeting.

DeWitt told WYDaily after the meeting the position didn’t need to go through the process. Some public bodies do not need to go through the request for qualifications process, she added.

DeWitt said she was going to recommend to the chairman that they issue a request for qualifications to get more proposals “to see who’s qualified” and make sure they review multiple candidates before making an official decision.

DeWitt contacted the EDA chair after the meeting to recommend they do a request for qualifications instead of hiring Slocum outright.

DeWitt said this means Slocum is still not the official hire for the consulting job.

Slocum is a Williamsburg resident and has a history in both Virginia and Maine of assisting localities and nonprofits with revitalization efforts, Main Street programs and economic development.

While she came with a letter of recommendation from Colonial Beach, EDA member Bill Carr requested the city call Colonial Beach as well to check references “the old-fashioned” way.

Sarah Fearing
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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