City Council proposes plan to revitalize downtown area 

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The Williamsburg Downtown Vibrancy Plan proposes making Prince George Street a more pedestrian-friendly area. COURTESY PHOTO / CITY OF WILLIAMSBURG

Does the City of Williamsburg have a “downtown”? That word brings to mind high-rise buildings and a streetscape segregated by blocks, along with taxis, pedestrians and the ever-short green light. But to the Williamsburg City Council, “downtown” means something that needs to be, and will be, revitalized.    

The City government recently received the “Downtown Vibrancy, Design, and Marketing Plan” from the ad hoc team of Econsult Solutions, Inc., Group Melvin Design and The Riddle Company. These firms were tasked with the goal of making downtown Williamsburg a livelier, more dynamic and more profitable region for the City.  

As it stands, consultants are taking the results from the analyzing survey and focus group and developing a plan — expected to be ready this fall — for implementation of this proposal in the City. 

The Downtown Planning Area was under consideration for implementation with the knowledge that the median age of Williamsburg’s residents is 24.9 years old. Individuals between the ages of 20 and 34 make up 38.8 percent of the population, while those over 65 years of age make up only 15 percent. Therefore, the Downtown Vibrancy Plan is geared toward restaurants and retail spaces, hoping to appeal to a younger demographic.

“I constantly feel like Williamsburg takes [an] isolationist stance when it comes to students,” Yesowitz said. “This is true when it comes to Colonial Williamsburg and also off-campus housing. Students contribute more than 300,000 volunteer hours each [year]… but it sometimes seems like a one-way street.”  

The report states that the area needs bars, cafes, coffee shops and casual dining restaurants to become more appealing to the millennial demographic. It also says that the downtown area is “safe and charming” but not as connected to the College of William and Mary community — as well as the broader Williamsburg community — as it could be. The report lists a series of challenges, which include difficulty in navigability, accessibility and movement, limited retail and food offerings and hours. 

Several students agree with the report’s findings. Jonah Yesowitz ’19 said that he does not believe the City is as invested in the students as the students are in the City. 

“I constantly feel like Williamsburg takes [an] isolationist stance when it comes to students,” Yesowitz said. “This is true when it comes to Colonial Williamsburg and also off-campus housing. Students contribute more than 300,000 volunteer hours each [year]… but it sometimes seems like a one-way street.” 

Echoing Yesowitz’s sentiments, Ben Lambert ’19 said that he would like a proportionate share of the economic development allocated to projects with millennial appeal during the remodeling of the downtown area.  

“Many of the recent [economic development] packages offered incentivized businesses that hold little to no appeal to [the] 38.8 percent of Williamsburg citizens that are millenials,” Lambert said. 

To rectify this, the DVP suggests a segmented downtown model, in which different aspects of the area are geared toward their heaviest constituency. The interconnecting streets would be widened for accessible pedestrian use and to promote a flow to the downtown area from the parking near the “tourist downtown” to the boutiques and breweries of the “student downtown.” 

Specifically, for students, the area near Triangle would be remade into tiny shops and an outdoor beer garden. The go-between Prince George Street would be void of cars, creating a pedestrian area and allowing for an open-air market environment. 

“The first [thing] we can do to enhance that experience is striving to making the downtown area more walkable, bike-able and install more bench areas along that area for folks to sit down and enjoy,” Zhang said.  

According to City Council member Benny Zhang ’16, this plan is exactly what Williamsburg needs. 

“The first [thing] we can do to enhance that experience is striving to making the downtown area more walkable, bike-able and install more bench areas along that area for folks to sit down and enjoy,” Zhang said.  

Zhang added that he believes a walkable Prince George Street would make it a more sought-after location. 

“Establishing a ‘Restaurant Row’ will open up more opportunities for late night options, and a cool experience by refurbishing our existing infrastructure to enhance a cool dining experience,” Zhang said. 

The five City Council members are working to reconcile Williamsburg’s median age with its historic reputation. The downtown area, including Merchants Square, Prince George Street and the Triangle area, borders the walls of the College. Some students said they wished to see Prince George Street become a more student-friendly location.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly replaced the word “millennial” with “snake person” in a quote from Ben Lambert ’19. This was due to a satirical word replacement browser extension installed on the news editor’s version of Google Chrome and not an implication that 38 percent of Williamsburg residents are reptilians.