The economic future of southwest James City County is like a collection of puzzle pieces that have to be put into place.
A couple of those pieces have reached key milestones in fitting together. County staff now has a draft master plan for James City County Marina improvements, while plans for renovations at Amblers House are being drawn up.
Officials at existing attractions, such as Jamestown Settlement and Colonial National Historical Park, are eager to see those projects come to fruition, saying they’ll boost the area’s profile as a recreational destination for tourists and residents.
County staff’s draft master plan outlines $6 million in improvements at the marina. Those improvements, ranging from dredging to new amenities, are expected to revamp the visitor experience, making it a more appealing place to spend time.
“We really have an opportunity for a hub,” James City Economic Development Director Amy Jordan said.
Jordan spoke at a Aug. 30 meeting of the real estate committee, a subcommittee of the Economic Development Authority, where Parks and Recreation Director John Carnifax presented the plan.
The improvement project would add another boat slip structure to the two existing covered slips, which would be totally replaced by new facilities. The marina’s existing slips have been a good revenue stream for the county, Carnifax said. The marina would have 110 slips once renovations are complete.
Currently, the marina has about 85 usable slips that generate about $100,000 annually. While that figure is expected to rise with the new slips, exactly by how much isn’t yet known.
The project would also include a new fuel pump, a concrete boardwalk, a living shoreline — rocks and plants to assist with stormwater drainage — and a new floating dock, Carnifax said.
Dredging is expected to take place next fall, though that’s dependent on funding approval and a permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
It’s unclear when the entire project will be completed since funding is still needed. The county has applied for a $554,537 grant through the Virginia Environmental Endowment to go toward the project, and expects to learn if the funds will be awarded in October. It’s likely the project will be completed in two or three phases, Carnifax wrote in an email Wednesday.
The county has $3 million earmarked for improvements, a figure that includes money assigned to the project as well as future funding in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 budgets, Carnifax wrote. Staff expect to present the plan and updated project costs to the Board of Supervisors before the fiscal year 2020 budget process begins.
The marina isn’t the only project in that corner of the county — the county wants to renovate Amblers House be an events venue.
The county is planning the renovation, which will include roof repair and brick restoration. While the renovations were previously planned to take place this summer, county staff now expect to bring the plans before the Board of Supervisors for approval sometime this fall. The actual renovation is expected to take two to four months to complete, Jordan said in a phone call.
The vacant property is slated for $504,500 in repairs as part of the 2019 budget. The county bought the two-story brick house in 2006 and earmarked $330,000 for repairs as part of the 2018 budget.
Once exterior repairs are complete, the way will be open to make the house an events venue in a public-private partnership. The house is located near Jamestown Beach Event Park, which Jordan has said could be better leveraged as a large outdoor concert venue.
James City Parks and Recreation expects to propose $333,000 be allocated in fiscal year 2020 and $1.3 million be allocated in fiscal year 2021 toward park improvements, which could include additional restrooms, road paving, a picnic pavilion and concrete walkways.
A new destination
These projects have a singular goal: to create a recreational destination in the county’s southwest.
In 2015, the county weighed selling the property but, despite receiving offers from several buyers, decided to hold onto it. Improvements were put off while the fate of the marina was determined. Now, the county looks to improve it to spur economic development in the area.
The county bought Amblers House, what’s now the James City County Marina and Jamestown Beach Event Park — which all together totals 91 acres — for $12.5 million in 2006.
The overall concept for the area hinges on the idea of multiple experiences within a short distance of each other. A person who visits Jamestown Settlement stays there for two to three hours; more amenities would give that visitor greater reason to spend more time in the area, Jordan said.
County staff expect each improvement to build on the next — at the marina, improvements are expected to make the site more attractive for commercial development along the lines of Billsburg Brewery, which opened at the marina with financial support from the county in October 2017. County officials have said a restaurant could be a good fit for the marina.
The people who manage existing attractions see the improvements as a boon for the area.
“All of that together creates a destination that appeals to the widest possible audience,” said Frank Stovall, Jamestown Yorktown Foundation deputy executive director for administration. The foundation manages Jamestown Settlement, which is a stone’s throw from the marina. “It makes this corner of the Triangle more attractive.”
Stovall called Jamestown Settlement and the other nearby historical attractions such as Historic Jamestowne “anchor tenants,” which will provide the initial crowds that will come to discover the attractions planned for the area.
Jamestown Settlement welcomed 138,227 paying visitors in the second quarter of 2018.
Kym Hall, superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park, echoed Stovall’s feeling that the county’s economic development plans will enhance the area.
The park service manages Historic Jamestowne as well as the Colonial Parkway. Hall said the economic development project in the area is welcomed by the park service because it’ll raise awareness of the educational resources it has.
Tying it together
County officials involved with the project say improved transportation is key to making the project’s pieces fit together.
However, just how to do that hasn’t been determined. One idea being considered is a trolley service.
There have been preliminary talks about introducing a service similar to the Yorktown trolley system around the marina. That’s dependent on whether the planned improvements attract enough people to warrant the service, Jordan said.
“It would be a real convenient way to get visitors from location to location,” she said, adding that its only an idea at this point.
The park service has had a good experience with the Yorktown trolley, which services its Yorktown Battlefield site, Hall said.
“We greatly benefit from it, and our visitors benefit,” Hall said.
Another idea is to bring a bike-sharing program to the area, which would allow visitors to easily take advantage of the nearby Virginia Capital Trail, Jordan said.
Between the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry and the Colonial Parkway, it shouldn’t be difficult to get to the area.
But there’s some work to be done. Jordan said the Colonial Parkway could use better signage so travelers are more aware of where they are and where the parkway can take them. Especially since the parkway links the region’s tourist attractions: Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Island.
On average, about 2,400 vehicles travel the Colonial Parkway between the Jamestown Visitor’s Center and Williamsburg city limit every day, while another 7,200 vehicles drive Jamestown Road between the ferry and Sandy Bay Road, according to 2017 Virginia Department of Transportation data.
Hall doesn’t anticipate the parkway would be overburdened with traffic due to development, though there would likely be a gradual increase in its usage as people become more aware of what’s available in the area.
“That’s an opportunity to touch more people,” Hall said. “If they win, we all win.”
Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.