The state of Williamsburg? Resilient, according to mayor

Virginia Gazette

In a wide-ranging address that spanned the city's nest egg to the fourth middle school, Mayor Clyde Haulman told a hundred or so people gathered at the Community Building that the state of Williamsburg is one of resiliency.

And he did so for free, at least to the guests. Similar events were held in Hampton and Newport News in September, the Daily Press reported. It cost attendees as much as $45 apiece. Poquoson held one in October.

"In a resilient city, deep relationships and partnerships, forged in our communal understanding of who and what we are and reinforced by the way we operate day-to-day, strengthen the city to face difficult challenges and even disasters," Haulman said. "The whole community is engaged; committed for the long term; favoring the sustainable over the expedient. Government in the resilient city develops realistic strategies and works at them with discipline and efficiency over time; not cast and recast with every election cycle."

Yet challenges lie ahead. Haulman listed several.

  • Core institutions Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary must adapt their business models and their operations to ensure and sustain the success of their missions.
  • The Great Recession has widened the income gap between families in the region, and continues to put unceasing pressure on city businesses.
  • Approximately 600 city families receive food stamps, up from 325 just five years ago. Nearly half of the children at Matthew Whaley Elementary and Berkeley Middle schools receive free or reduced school lunch.
  • Aging rental housing, aging hospitality businesses, and an aging city infrastructure.

Haulman first reviewed the city's financial status. "The city has a reputation for financial strength, but maintaining that strength requires a persistent awareness of the long-term fiscal impacts of everyday governmental decisions:  a rezoning or regulatory change here, an enhanced service or new program there."

He noted that a forthcoming annual financial report will place the city's fund balance at an "enviable"  $31 million. Fiscal 2014 ended with a $1.2 million surplus, which Haulman said will be used to pay for capital projects.

"These numbers are encouraging, especially considering that as a result of the recession total General Fund revenues in fiscal 2014 were $33.5 million compared to $35 million in fiscal 2008 – six years ago," he said. "The city has lived within its means."

He weighed declining revenue - lodging tax collections down 30 percent from 2007, coupled with a room inventory that has dwindled by nearly 25 percent against redevelopment along Capitol Landing Road and Second Street, and the pending conversion of the Lord Paget motel into Copper Fox Distillery.

Haulman called for aggressive marketing and promotion that "demands a no excuses/no finger pointing, all-in partnership between every major public and private stakeholder." He pointed to opportunities, including redevelopment of Williamsburg Shopping Center and the nearby Arts District. Haulman revealed that a public sculpture project would take place in 2015. in the Arts District.

To the east, development continues at Quarterpath at Williamsburg, anchored by Riverside's Doctors Hospital, and construction has begun on 384 apartments and townhouses. "Tonight," Haulman announced, "I am pleased to report that a lease on the larger of two available spaces in The Triangle Building is nearing the finish line, and a lease has just been signed for the smaller space with Rick’s Cheese Steak Shop."

He acknowledged declining tourism as a "sector [that] will not be able to carry us in the future to the same degree it has in the past." The answer, he continued, is economic diversification. "We will re-launch the regional Triangle Business Innovation Center, and plan to support co-work space.  We will continue working with the Economic Development Authority to develop programs that fit our needs and we will increase awareness of all our economic incentive packages... We will champion the concept of a mega-region from Richmond to Virginia Beach with Williamsburg right in the middle."

There are three key road projects ahead: Ironbound Road turn lanes and Longhill Road realignment between Treyburn Drive and Richmond Road; the widening of Monticello Avenue between the shopping centers; and reconstruction of the Capitol Landing Road and Bypass Road intersection. All are contingent on VDOT funding.

Haulman cited saving the Country Road between the Historic Area and Kingsmill as an unrealized goal.

"It could be a premier linear park for hiking, running and biking, and be part of a circle connecting our colonial heritage with the Civil War site at Redoubt Park, passing through beautiful Virginia countrysid.e" Meanwhile, a goal from 60 years ago is moving forward. "The city is close to finalizing the purchase of property on Queen’s Creek east of the Capitol Landing Road bridge for a future Capitol Landing Park," Haulman said. "It would be a companion to College Landing Park – the sites of Williamsburg’s two colonial ports."

The mayor also broached homelessness, what Haulman termed "a national, regional, and local issue that requires solutions transcending political boundaries."

Turning to education, Haulman reinforced a long-standing position. "The next big challenge is resolution of the fourth middle school question.  The city stands with the School Board in supporting reuse of the James Blair school site."

The biggest applause for the night was reserved for City Manager Jack Tuttle, who last week announced he would retire in June 2015. 

"Jack stands out because of his vision for a better community, his attention to details, his acute fiscal sense, and his dedication to creating a working environment for city employees that empowers them and provides the framework for them to succeed," Haulman said. He is a tough, principled, straight-forward leader who invariably chooses the right option."

Carter can be reached at 757-345-2347.

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