Williamsburg debates plans to remove CW parking lot

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The suggested plan proposes converting the parking lot behind Blue Talon bistro into a greenspace. COURTESY IMAGE / WYDAILY

In recent weeks, plans granting Colonial Williamsburg supplementary funds to create a new park have attracted attention from residents throughout the Williamsburg area. 

The suggested plan proposes converting the parking lot behind Blue Talon Bistro into a greenspace. Goodwin Plaza, as the greenspace would be called, includes plans for a fountain and splash pool, benches and on-trend brick walkways for residents and students at the College of William and Mary to enjoy, as well as shaded spaces to escape the heat that tourists and community members often face while visiting. 

Concern has been vocalized both by local business owners and residents over the loss of convenience, as well as over giving significant funds to Colonial Williamsburg.  

Director of programs and outreach at the College’s Global Research Institute and volunteer selected to the city’s Economic Development Authority David Trichler spoke about his involvement in Goodwin Plaza. 

A proponent of the current plan, Trichler discussed clear reasoning behind the park and its importance to the community. Trichler explained that EDA was trying to understand how to retain greater student populations post-graduation as well as bring new populations into the Williamsburg community. 

“The city has been interested for a while in how to help William and Mary students stay here,” Trichler said. “And then also how do you attract talent and families here to diversify the economy?

“The city has been interested for a while in how to help William and Mary students stay here,” Trichler said. “And then also how do you attract talent and families here to diversify the economy? One of the things that has been our focus for the past few years is something called ‘downtown vibrancy.’ Increasingly, experts have focused on creating a sense of place so that people gather, people engage, people shop, there’s entertainment; and we’ve been fortunate to have Colonial Williamsburg, but how do you create a bigger sense of ‘downtown’ besides Colonial Williamsburg?”  

According to Trichler, another component of downtown vibrancy is creating more flow through Merchant Square using what he terms “corridors” to increase economic returns to the city and small business owners. 

“The concern that many of the businesses on Prince George and Triangle Deli have is how do you create these activating corridors?” Trichler said. “The literature there is strong: the economic returns when you start to activate these corridors, particularly corridors in proximity to local businesses, you have economic gains between 12 and 48 percent of revenue. And in EDA, we have a responsibility also to think about revenue of the city because if the city’s revenues diverse increasingly we get to put more money into education, you can put more money into fire and police safety.” 

While there are thoughts about the benefits of greenspace both to community and economic growth, many community members and business owners have expressed concerns about the loss of parking that would take place if the current plan is implemented.  

Trichler said he recognized that the change would be difficult, and the element of parking convenience might not be the same, but it is something that should be weighed with the possibility of community growth and betterment. But, Trichler highlighted a different issue with parking. 

“There is a perception that the other parking lots that CW owns have not been properly maintained,” Trichler said. “The city of Williamsburg doesn’t have a parking space problem, it has a parking maintenance problem.”

“There is a perception that the other parking lots that CW owns have not been properly maintained,” Trichler said. “The city of Williamsburg doesn’t have a parking space problem, it has a parking maintenance problem.” 

Additionally, the professor pointed out the benefit to ADA handicap parking. 

“With parking and handicap parking particularly, they’re actually increasing the number of handicapped parking spots,” Trichler said. “You’re losing 40 spots overall, but the number of handicapped is doubling, in the latest plan. So, for people who had the concern of handicapped access, this should actually improve their ability to access handicap spots. This plan is looking at the overall vibrancy and what’s the best use of this space, so best per capita use of space is not a parking lot, best per capita use of space is when you activate it.” 

Ron Spangler, a community member participating in what he calls a “John Dow civics journey,” has befriended Trichler after learning about the Goodwin Plaza plan. Spangler, while optimistic about the benefit of change to CW and Merchant Square, worries that there is a lack of communication between the city and its citizens. 

He also expressed his belief that there must be some middle ground where everyone can be satisfied. 

Spangler started a petition against the Plaza and was able to engage his fellow citizens and start a conversation. 

“The petition just said ‘We’re against the Goodwin Plaza,’ period, that’s it,” Spangler said. “It had nothing to do with the park or greenspace — I’m all for vibrancy. I just wanted to say, let’s stop the engines here and find out what’s really going on.” 

Spangler said he ran the petition for over two weeks and in a matter of seven hours, he received around 300 signatures. 

From this, he could tell there was ample confusion about the plans for the Plaza and that this left residents feeling excluded from what was going on. He continued to inform himself by reaching out to city council members and EDA members like Trichler to meet with them and discuss the plans.  

Spangler wants to continue developing dialogues about Goodwin in order to foster community and find a place of agreement. He feels that in many ways the city should approach the plan again, taking in public comment and reach more common ground. Spangler preaches a message of compromise and communication. 

“The more you know about something and the more dialogue there is about something, then generally the consensus comes together,” Spangler said.  

He argued that the city pushed for Goodwin Plaza’s construction too quickly. 

He emphasized that taking time to consider all elements of the plan and develop alternatives could be beneficial. 

Caleb Rogers ’20 shared how he saw the Plaza as a benefit to students.  

“I think where Goodwin Plaza comes in is adding greenspace adjacent to Merchant Square,” Rogers said, “In being a private plaza, there’s a lot of opportunities for what it can be during the year, in being that open space to enjoy, but I also know that CW has a lot of cool ideas for events and programming that the plaza can hold.”