For the first time in 30 years of working with a tour company in town, Angela Taverniti’s frustrations with Colonial Williamsburg have become too much.
Taverniti, director of the Original Ghost Tours of Williamsburg, said she’s outraged with the way Colonial Williamsburg and the city are shutting out competing tour guide companies from bringing tours in certain parts of the historic area.
In April 2019, the city passed an ordinance stating tour guides would no longer have to take a test to be licensed by the city. However, tour guides still have to apply and pay for a license.
Following the change, Taverniti said the Williamsburg Police Department, which oversees tour guide licensing, told the tour directors they were no longer allowed to walk across areas such as the Palace Green, which she said had previously been fair game.
“Suddenly they told us we couldn’t walk on any of the green space,” she said. “We’ve been walking on those spaces for years.”
When the city conveyed the parts of the downtown area to Colonial Williamsburg in 1928, the deed states that certain areas would remain in the public use:
“That the grantee, its successors or assigns shall perpetually preserve and maintain as public parks with free access to the general public the parcel of land known as [Palace Green, Court House Green and Powder Horn Green,” according to the deed.
Colonial Williamsburg remained mum — its spokesman, Joseph Straw, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Taverniti said in addition to tour guide companies being forced off of those public areas, for years Colonial Williamsburg employees have approached her guests before a tour begins and hand them information about their own tours.
“You don’t know whether to be brave or not to be brave because it’s your livelihood,” she said. “You think these people have more authority over you and you don’t know what to do.”
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It’s not the first time this has become an issue.
WYDaily acquired a 2016 email exchange between Jeffery Duncan, director of property planning, resources and insurance for the foundation, and Marvin Collins, the city manager at the time, where Collins addressed this issue.
“The City…received a complaint that Colonial Williamsburg was soliciting on a public street or right of way, namely Merchant’s Square, by approaching individuals on Merchant’s Square waiting for other tours to begin and handing out brochures advertising its’ ghost tours to those participants,” according to the email.
Again, Colonial Williamsburg remained mum when WYDaily sought comment for this story — Duncan did not respond.
Taverniti said since the change in public space usage, her tours have been photographed and her business has suffered.
“I don’t understand it because we bring business to the town,” she said. “It’s always been a fight since I can remember.”
In addition to being frustrated over the recent changes, Taverniti said she is angry to see Colonial Williamsburg making a profit off the area.
In the deed for the Palace Green, Court House Green and Powder Horn Green, it states that the area “shall never be used for commercial purposes,” however in December 2018, Colonial Williamsburg sold tickets for seats on the Palace Green to a fireworks show, and will do so again this December, according to the foundation’s website.
“It infuriates me not as a business owner but as a local,” Taverniti said. “I don’t think it’s fair…they’ve totally taken advantage of people.”
Debi Burcham, clerk of council for the city, did not immediately respond for comment.