CW representative lays out Merchants Square plans at Williamsburg EDA meeting

The Williamsburg Economic Development Authority’s Board of Directors received an update on residential and commercial real estate plans for Merchants Square and the Goodwin Building at its Wednesday meeting.

Jeffrey Duncan, vice president of real estate for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, showed interest in adding student housing and residential lofts to Merchants Square. He also outlined plans for the recently vacated Goodwin Building and other holdings in the commercial district.

Last month, Colonial Williamsburg spokesman Joseph Straw announced the foundation would move its administrative offices out of the Goodwin Building, with plans to convert the building into office, retail or restaurant space.

After announcing the move, Duncan said the foundation was approached by a variety of businesses and developers looking to turn the Goodwin into everything from a boutique hotel and student housing to upscale residential lofts.

“It’s probably going to be another couple of months before we land on what we think is best for Colonial Williamsburg,” Duncan said. “My goal is to bring as much increased vibrancy to Merchants Square as possible, and residential would certainly bring that. Student housing could as well, but we’ll see.”

Announcements on new tenants for several empty Merchants Square storefronts are also on the horizon, according to Duncan. He said the organization will announce the businesses moving into spaces formerly occupied by the Williamsburg Art Gallery, Seasons Restaurant and Binn’s of Williamsburg in the coming weeks.

He also detailed some potential long-term moves for Merchants Square. Duncan said the foundation is exploring the possibility of adding residential lofts to the commercial area and creating more pedestrian-friendly spaces.

“I think expanding the residential downtown, not just Merchants Square, would be a great assist for everybody,” Duncan said. “The ability to have several hundred more people living downtown and going to breakfast at Blue Talon or lunch at Aromas, as a landlord, we would love to see an expansion of those kinds of things.”

The EDA board also voted unanimously to recommend City Council extend a performance agreement with Colonial Williamsburg on behalf of Mellow Mushroom.

At a meeting last October, the body approved an application from the foundation for $150,000 of the city’s discretionary funds to be used for the construction and opening of a Mellow Mushroom restaurant in Merchants Square. The agreement required the pizzeria be up and running by July 1, but Duncan says construction issues delayed that opening date.

“When we talked last fall, I was thinking that July 1 would most likely be the opening date, but Mellow Mushroom still had to go through the contracting and bidding process, and so once they got done with that, construction started and is now well underway,” Duncan said.

He now expects construction on the restaurant to be completed by mid-August, and says Mellow Mushroom owner Gray Nelson is aiming for an opening in mid-September.

“Anecdotally, I know Gray very well, and he’s eager to be up and running in Williamsburg,” said board member Robby Willey.

As its last order of Colonial Williamsburg-related business for the day, the board voted unanimously to award a $2,500 sponsorship to the foundation’s Summer Breeze concert series.

The EDA Board of Directors also voted unanimously to approve its proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2019.

Its budget for the upcoming fiscal year will total $303,072. About $110,000 of that fund came from the city’s budget, with the rest coming from bond fees, interest earnings, rental incomes and transfers from EDA reserves.

Among the body’s expenditures in the upcoming year are $34,500 in funding for the Launchpad regional small business incubator and $18,268 in funding for regional business recruitment projects between Williamsburg and James City and York counties.

The EDA Board of Directors will hold its next meeting July 11 at the Williamsburg Municipal Building.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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