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Monday, May 27, 2024

‘Mixed bag’: Merchants Square business owners split on value of Goodwin Square project

Overhead of the P3 lot as currently constructed. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Overhead of the P3 lot as currently constructed. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Nestled in between Prince George and Duke of Gloucester streets, a small 48-car parking lot is on the chopping block. 

Depending on a City Council vote slated for next month, that potholed parking lot could become a sweeping green space with newly-planted trees and a splash pad.

But it may not come without consequences.

Goodwin Square is bound to impact at least some businesses — particularly high-end retail — in downtown Williamsburg by removing those 40 parking spots, some nearby Merchants Square business owners say.

And, while some agree there’s plenty of parking throughout Colonial Williamsburg, some business owners believe removing a close lot to those high-end shops without a plan in place to accommodate loyal customers who cannot — or will not — walk is a half-hatched idea.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes,” Cheese Shop partner Cathy Power Pattisall said of her family’s 43-year business in Merchants Square. “Change is always hard, you can count on that.

“But there are ways we can address that,” she continued. “If they’re taking parking away, we need to find a way to help the other folks who can’t necessarily get far-away parking.”

Goodwin Square has applied for $2 million in grant funding to power the project. The funds were generated by Senate Bill 942 taxes collected in the Historic Triangle, and would help Colonial Williamsburg remove all but eight handicap spaces in the downtown P3 parking lot.

City Council is slated to approve or deny funding for the project next month.

Colonial Williamsburg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

RELATED STORY: Colonial Williamsburg clears a hurdle for Goodwin Square project — with two more to go

Customers of the Precious Gem, an internationally-recognized jeweler that borders P3, are far less likely to frequent the store if Goodwin Square comes to fruition, owner Lisa Akdogan said.

“I’m not saying there’s a lack of parking, but it’s not the same as being able to pull up behind our stores if there’s a space,” Akdogan said of converting the P3 lot.

The Precious Gem has been in Williamsburg about 40 years, 30 of which have been in Colonial Williamsburg.

Akdogan has warned elected officials that Goodwin Square will significantly impact retailers such as herself — and, therefore, impact the sales tax income for the city.

Akdogan’s two biggest issues with the project involve deliveries and parking. Plans show one entrance used for cars going both in and out with eight handicap spots. 

Akdogan worries the small lot won’t be enough for multiple delivery trucks. She also believes repair and utility trucks doing work at local businesses won’t have a useful place to park their vehicles and tools if they need to do work.

The Colonial Williamsburg had retracted their previous application to change the area, but now they are resubmitting new conceptual plans for the City of Williamsburg's architectural review board to review on Tuesday. (WYDaily/Courtesy City of Williamsburg)
The Colonial Williamsburg had retracted their previous application to change the area, but have re-proposed the project again. (WYDaily/Courtesy City of Williamsburg)

Colonial Williamsburg approached Merchants Square tenants after it had already hired people to make draft plans for the square, she said. While the foundation did respond to some concerns and made alterations to the plan, it struck down any request to downsize the green space or alter the entrance and exit.

A green space could benefit downtown, but Akdogan believes the plan as-is presents some key problems for customers who need close parking or pick-up and drop-off opportunities.

“I honestly have mixed feelings,” Akdogan said. “I think it needs to be reworked a little bit before they go ahead with it.”

Cheese Shop owners believe Goodwin Square project has merit — but still presents some problems.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Cheese Shop partner Cathy Power Pattisall said. “My mother doesn’t have handicap placard, nor does she need one, but she’s not going to park four blocks away and walk to the Precious Gem, make a $20,000 purchase and walk back to her car with it.”

Power Pattisall believes Goodwin Square could be a boon if there was a follow up plan in place for customers who are committed to parking near their destinations.

Power Pattisall said the Merchants Square Association has recommended introducing valet parking in downtown to accommodate customers who can’t or won’t walk longer distances to events at the Kimball Theatre or shops on DoG Street.

That idea has been proposed to Colonial Williamsburg several times over the last two decades and has gone nowhere, Power Pattisall said.

“I think Goodwin Square could be a really cool thing,” Power Pattisall said. “For the Cheese Shop, it could be additional customers during the day… But there needs to be attention paid to the perception of [there being] no parking in Merchants Square.”

Meanwhile, at least one local business owner says he sees only benefits “so far.”

Adam Steely, co-owner of the Blue Talon Bistro, said removing the P3 parking lot behind the Blue Talon would help the restaurant expand its outdoor area for serving food and drink.

He has spoken with Colonial Williamsburg about potentially expanding their lease to cover more outdoor space behind the building

He said it’s unclear this early in the process whether it would need to be a paid part of his lease. 

Steely is part of the Economic Development Authority, which also recently released a letter of support for the Goodwin Square Project, citing studies and other evidence to prove adding green communal space is a boon — not hindrance — for visitation.

Steely said he wasn’t deeply involved in the issuance of that letter because he was out of town and aims to separate his personal business with public EDA matters. It is signed by Vice Chairman Rick Overy.

City Council is set to vote on the Goodwin Square project at their Oct. 12 meeting.

Other business

Colonial Williamsburg is making more than one effort to expand engagement opportunities in the downtown B1 District, where Goodwin Square is proposed.

The Sept. 18 Planning Commission meeting agenda also includes two requests from Colonial Williamsburg: One is to add a definition for “outdoor event space,” the other is for a special use permit to allow the foundation to make a special event space on the patio of Berret’s Seafood Restaurant from May to October.

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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