City approves Arts District proposal


    The Williamsburg City Council voted to approve the creation of an Arts District in the city at its meeting Thursday.

    Since May 2010, the city council has been conducting a feasibility study to determine whether an Arts District would benefit the Williamsburg community. The proposed district will include the area near the Williamsburg Shopping Center between Richmond Road and Lafayette Street, and would offer economic incentives for arts-related businesses located in the district.

    “Arts Districts bring economic opportunities,” the council said in a prepared statement. “Research shows that having a group of artists live in one area has great economic and culture spinoffs — revitalizing the area and creating demand for additional artists/creative businesses.”

    According to Michele DeWitt, the economic development director for the city council, an arts district would encourage the growth of a creative economy, encourage diversification of the economy through creative businesses, increase and maintain the vitality of the city, retain and attract creative economy professionals and increase traffic and customers to existing city businesses to help them prosper and grow and encourage the development of an additional aspect to visitors’ experiences here to strengthen the tourism economy.

    “Economic growth in the 21st century is critically tied to creative capital and the use of human innovation and ingenuity as the ultimate economic resource,” DeWitt said.

    In the newly-approved ordinance, the city council has said that it desires to promote art and culture in Williamsburg by facilitating an environment within the city where artists can live and work, improving the lives of Williamsburg residents and visitors, and enhancing the city’s economy. In order to encourage businesses to locate within the district, the city plans to offer economic incentives to qualified arts businesses that locate within the designated Arts District.

    The city council has said that the new district would not infringe on current property rights in the area. The ordinance would not change a property owner’s ability to use his or her land, and all existing zoning, building, architectural review guidelines and regulations will remain in place.

    “The Arts District ordinance is an economic development tool that the State of Virginia allows localities to adopt,” Mayor Clyde Haulman said. “It provides tax incentives to creative economy businesses that choose to locate in this area. The private market still controls who lives, leases, works, etc. there. A property owner may choose to lease his property to creative economy businesses that benefit from the tax incentives, or he may not.”

    The Williamsburg Arts District is one of several projects to improve the culture and creativity of Williamsburg.

    “In addition to this idea of creating an arts district, there are other efforts in the community to strengthen the arts, including the College of William and Mary’s integrated arts complex idea and This Century Arts Gallery’s proposed visual arts center,” DeWitt said. “All of these efforts create synergy for the others and are complementary.”


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