A new plaza complete with a fountain, outdoor seating and a video wall, could be coming to Merchants Square next year, but would replace a busy downtown parking lot.
Williamsburg’s Architectural Review Board unanimously approved design concepts for the proposed Goodwin Square plaza at its meeting Tuesday. The project would replace Colonial Williamsburg’s P3 parking lot if it receives final approval from City Council later this year.
The 48-spot parking lot has vehicle entrances off of North Henry Street and North Boundary Street and is surrounded by Merchants Square shops and restaurants including Blue Talon Bistro, Ocean Palm and Blackbird Bakery.
Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of real estate Jeff Duncan said construction on the project could begin as early as January 2019 and would take about four months to complete.
“Our objective is to enhance an already-vibrant, multi-use driven, flourishing Williamsburg town center that is an ongoing magnet for residents and visitors to enjoy,” Duncan said.
The proposed Goodwin Square would feature a play fountain for children, ample room for outdoor events and festivals, a public restroom building and additional outdoor seating for Merchants Square shoppers. The plaza also would include a large LED video screen that could be used for movie and event screenings, Duncan said.
“The plan is to, when Merchants Square is open for business, this (video wall) would be running all day,” Duncan said. “It would allow us to move the Sunday night movies on Prince George Street in front of Blue Talon into the square, which would allow us to keep that street open.”
At an Economic Development Authority meeting on Wednesday, the board also unanimously voted to grant the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation $130,348 as reimbursement for a portion of the P3 lot demolition costs after discussing the matter in closed session.
The grant will fund just over half of the total expected cost of the demolition project, Economic Development Director Michele Mixner DeWitt said. The grant will be given to Colonial Williamsburg once the entire project is completed and is contingent on the project being approved by all necessary city boards.
The funds will come out of the EDA’s demolition program, according to the meeting’s agenda item summary, which requires applicants to secure at least three bids for demolition work. The lowest bid Colonial Williamsburg received for the demolition project was $247,174.
As Colonial Williamsburg continues to market the Goodwin Building to commercial developers, Duncan said he expects to receive formal development proposals for the property by the end of the month. He said companies have shown interest in converting Goodwin to a mixed-use retail and residential building, and that the proposed plaza would be a selling point for developers.
“The potential existence of Goodwin Square plays heavily in some of the decisions that the developers are considering,” Duncan said. “They like the fact that, if they put residential upstairs, that some of the units might be looking down onto a park-like setting.”
Eight parking spaces would stay in the square, according to Duncan, with the majority being handicap spaces. The vehicle entrances off North Henry and Boundary streets would also stay in place.
Duncan said the majority of merchants Colonial Williamsburg has contacted about initial plans for the plaza are excited, but some have expressed concern about the loss of parking spaces. Some Architectural Review Board members agreed.
“I use the parking area almost every day, and if I wanted to dash in and get a loaf of bread, if I have to park two blocks away, I’m not going to get that loaf of bread,” said board member Don Koehler.
Duncan said the overall loss in parking spaces would not affect the majority of downtown visitors.
“Changes to downtown parking generally and to Merchants Square specifically would be minimal, with the loss of approximately 40 parking spaces out of more than 4,000 total parking spaces downtown, 1,080 of which are all located in lots P1 through P6,” he said.
“It’s just that this is the prime parking, this is where everybody wants to go,” said board member Joseph Hertzler.
Plans for the proposed Goodwin Square will now go before the Planning Commission for a public hearing on Nov. 14 and would be presented to City Council for final approval in December.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.