Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Is Colonial Williamsburg allowed to charge for VIP seating on the Palace Green? City says nope; CW says yep. So now what?

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is selling tickets for its annual Grand Illumination event on the Palace Green despite restrictions placed by the location's deed.(WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is selling tickets for its annual Grand Illumination event on the Palace Green despite restrictions placed by the location’s deed.(WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

Colonial Williamsburg is selling VIP seating tickets to its Grand Illumination event on the Palace Green, but according to the city, that’s a no-no per the location’s deed restrictions. 

In a news release on Nov. 26 from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the organization stated it would be selling “premium seating” tickets on the Palace Green for $25 for the Grand Illumination fireworks show on Sunday. 

However, when the city of Williamsburg originally conveyed parts of the downtown area to Colonial Williamsburg in 1928, it was under the restriction that it would not be for commercial use, according to documents from the city.

The deed also states “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].”

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However, Colonial Williamsburg has sold tickets for its annual Grand Illumination event in 2018 and continues to do so this year. Additionally, the Foundation has also charged a fee for Palace Green “premium seating” during its annual Fourth of July fireworks show, said Joseph Straw, spokesman for the Foundation.

“Colonial Williamsburg presents free fireworks demonstrations for guests and the community twice each year, on the Fourth of July and at Grand Illumination,” Straw wrote in an email. “The foundation offers limited premium seating to offset the cost of these events, which are subject to the terms of special event permits issued by the City of Williamsburg.”

But the city has a different take on that — despite more than nine decades having passed since the original deed, the restrictions remain standing.

“While it is important to note that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation offers their Grand Illumination and its ever-popular fireworks free of charge for the general public, we do believe that the deed restrictions and the Commonwealth’s Acts of Assembly do restrict VIP seating and fees for usage,” the city said in a statement.

“The City of Williamsburg transferred the Palace Green and other greens to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation with deed restrictions that the owner “preserve and maintain as public parks with free access to the general public” and that these same spaces “shall never be used for commercial purposes,’” the city said in a statement. “While a majority of the green would remain open to the public for Grand Illumination, Colonial Williamsburg has for several years, offered an area of VIP seating for a fee.”

It’s unclear when Colonial Williamsburg began charging for the event.

City officials said staff will discuss the issue with the Foundation for events in the future but given this year’s Grand Illumination is so soon, the event will proceed without interference. 

What action the city might consider taking regarding the issue remains unknown.

The deed restrictions have been an issue for the Foundation in the past as well.

This year, local tour guide companies found themselves shut out of Colonial Williamsburg’s public green spaces, such as the Palace Green, despite deed restrictions stating the areas remain public. 

In a previous interview, Angela Taverniti, owner of Original Ghost Tours of Williamsburg, said she was upset to see Colonial Williamsburg making a profit from these public spaces. 

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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