Residents, visitors surprised and disappointed by Colonial Williamsburg shakeup

Residents and visitors alike expressed a mixture of surprise and disappointment about Colonial Williamsburg’s upcoming reshuffle Saturday, which includes layoffs, outsourcing and curtains for Kimball Theatre.

Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell Reiss announced layoffs for 71 employees and the departure of an additional 262 people once contractors assume golf operations, landscaping and facilities management and product and retail management. The shakeup will leave Colonial Williamsburg with slightly fewer than 2,100 employees.

The Kimball Theatre will also close July 6. Reiss told the Gazette he hoped to locate an organization willing to lease and reopen the theater. According to Reiss’ presentation to stakeholders Thursday, the theater hasn’t turned a profit since 1999.

 “I try to find someone to blame for it all. I can’t,” John Geilser said. Geisler has been a Williamsburg resident since the early 90s.

While disappointed Kimball Theatre is about to close, he mentioned he had trouble getting information about movies playing at the theater, which deterred his attendance at screenings.

News of Kimball Theater's closing came as a surprise to Denise Modiglina, a Charles City resident.

Though she had never been to the theater, she appreciated its role as a local institution.

“It’s nice to know it’s there,” Modiglina said.

Layoffs and outsourcing will be a challenge for employees, Kaytlin Stelman said.

“It’s sad, especially for families of people who work here,” the Portsmouth-based photographer said of the changes as she waited for a client family to show up for a shoot. Stelman is an occasional visitor to Colonial Williamsburg.

Employees whose jobs are to be outsourced can choose to move with their positions to the new company, though some people will be forced to leave, Reiss said in his presentation.  

“It took me off guard,” Jay Taylor, of South Carolina, said. “If it’s just to save money, I feel like they make enough with all the events and things that go on.”  

Colonial Williamsburg lost $54 million in operations in 2016 and $277 million in the past five years, according to a public Colonial Williamsburg fact sheet.

Of Colonial Williamsburg’s $682 million endowment, only $365.2 million is available in 2017 for operations. Without action, that endowment would be whittled to $12 million by 2025 and the organization would have a negative balance by 2026, Reiss said.

Others people milling around Colonial Williamsburg Saturday cast changes as a difficult but needed step.

The changes are necessary to keep the living-history museum up and running, said Myra Carl, a Williamsburg-area resident and Colonial Williamsburg tour guide for six years.

 “Anything to keep Colonial Williamsburg alive,” Carl said. “Otherwise, with the way history is not taught today, this could go away.”

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

Gazette archives were used in this report.

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