Palace Farms site to introduce new Colonial Williamsburg event venue

0
2
The outdoor event space at 100 Visitor Center Drive will remain free of permanent structures until its permit expires in 2020. COURTESY PHOTO / ANDREW HARRIS, WYDAILY

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation aims to improve its tourism economy with plans to build a new outdoor event space across from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. A short drive from the College of William and Mary, the new event venue at 100 Visitor Center Drive on the Palace Farms site has been approved by the City Council. 

The new space is owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The expansive outdoor field would allow for 5,000 individuals to attend proposed events such as concerts and brewery festivals. The venue would take up 21 acres of a 42-acre space with a pedestrian bridge providing access from the Visitor Center. Currently, the land is largely vacant and has only been used for small industrial projects and wind turbines in the past, along with the historical Great Hopes Plantation site. 

“It’s pretty much just underutilized right now,” City of Williamsburg Planning Commissioner Caleb Rogers ’20 said. “It’s essentially a field that’s a part of the Museum Support District that Colonial Williamsburg owns, and it doesn’t back up too many homes or residential areas, it’s basically just woods.” 

The success of other festivals and events such as the Funhouse Fest and the Summer Breeze Concert Series inspired the new use of the Palace Farms space. Currently, no plans exist to move the location of events like Summer Breeze to the new venue.

 With the new event space, more special events could be held year-round to broaden the scope of Williamsburg tourism.

“A lot of the trends you see with bigger cities, medium-sized cities and small cities is that they’re trying to diversify their tourism economy,” City of Williamsburg Council member Benming Zhang ’16 J.D. ’20 said.

“A lot of the trends you see with bigger cities, medium-sized cities and small cities is that they’re trying to diversify their tourism economy,” City of Williamsburg Council member Benming Zhang ’16 J.D. ’20 said. 

The new event space would also give the City a chance to expand out from historical tourism to event-based tourism.

“We’re benefitted heavily by tourism, obviously just with Colonial Williamsburg,” Rogers said. “A lot of that tourism is just historical though, so this sort of festival, event, concert space will bring in a different type of tourism.”

With Williamsburg’s location between Virginia Beach and Richmond, the event space would allow for musicians to make another stop in between the two larger cities. 

“Oftentimes particularly musicians will have concerts in Richmond and travel down to Virginia Beach for another concert,” City of Williamsburg Planning Commissioner Justin Shawler ’16 said. “We are the perfect in-between space where they could have a weeknight concert in the summer and spring.” 

The new event space was approved unanimously by the City Council as of Nov. 6, 2018. The vote passed with four votes in favor, two absent, and one abstention from Mayor Paul Freiling ’83 due to his role within the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The vote allowed for changes to the zoning ordinance of the Museum Support District, allowing for outdoor special events to be held within it. The only comments made during the vote were presented by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Vice President for Real Estate Jeff Duncan, in which he inquired about parking at the site. 

With the success of the vote, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has been granted a special use permit to allow for the use of the new venue. The permit will expire after two years on Dec. 31, 2020. 

The two-year period will provide time to evaluate the success of the outdoor venue. No permanent structures will be allowed to be built on the venue space, meaning that no permanent seating or stages will be constructed. 

“When this first starts, it’s all going to be temporary structures and things like that,” Shawler said. “It’s sort of a trial run to make sure this is a good use from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s view and the City’s perspective.” 

As of yet, no events have been scheduled for the Palace Farms venue. However, the prospects for the local economy from the venue appear to be positive.

“It’s a regional draw, we can have people come to Williamsburg for a concert and maybe stay,” Shawler said. “… It has a potential to contribute to the local tax base.”

“It’s a regional draw, we can have people come to Williamsburg for a concert and maybe stay,” Shawler said. “… It has a potential to contribute to the local tax base.” 

Zhang said he sees the Palace Farms venue as a beneficial location for both residents of the City and students at the College. 

“It just presents tons of opportunities for students, residents and visitors to come together,” Zhang said.