Donning hard hats and shovels, College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley and Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler jointly kicked off construction of the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation’s Tribe Square project at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning. After brief remarks, the pair was joined by representatives of the College and the Board of Visitors in formally commencing a project long awaited by both the students and residents of Williamsburg.
“This is the dream, to get to where we are today and have something being developed right across from campus for students,” John Gerdelman, Chairman of the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation’s Board of Directors, said. “I’m so excited. And it’s not just us. This is a coming together between a campus property and a town property, and it’s beneficial for both entities.”
A crowd of around 50 — mixing College and City employees, as well as various others associated with the development — gathered at the Tribe Square site, located between Wawa and the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church on Richmond Road, just across from the College. When completed, the three-story building will house 56 students in four-person apartments, with retail on the ground floor.
“It speaks to two of our most pressing undergraduate needs,” Reveley said. “A place for undergraduates to live very close to campus … and a place for the students, and particularly those not able to drink, to buy reasonably priced food and find something to do in a venue that does not close up like a clam at 8 o’clock. Indeed, it has to have nocturnal habits.”
Construction is expected to begin within the next several weeks, and the project is slated to open in fall 2011. With the site currently occupied by a parking lot and an abandoned building, groundbreaking was consigned to a pile of dirt amid a small patch of grass to one side.
“This is serious digging,” Reveley joked while adjusting his hard hat.”
Once Reveley and Zeidler’s job was completed, the complex is set to be developed by the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation, but run by the College. Officially an independent entity, the Foundation exists to support the College through the management of real estate properties.
Planning for the Tribe Square project formally began in 2006, when the Foundation began discussions with the Board of Visitors on a joint housing-retail development. The plan was approved by the Williamsburg City Council in April, paving the way for construction to begin.
“I think it fulfills a lot of exactly what we’re looking for,” Monty Mason, Chairman of the City’s Economic Development Authority, said. “It’s student housing adjacent to the campus and not in our traditional neighborhoods, businesses suited and designed for targeting students, and it is an opportunity taking some property that’s not at its best use and turning it into a positive use.”
Mason cited the ability to draw visitors down Richmond Road beyond Colonial Williamsburg as a key benefit of the project.
“If you got down to Prince George Street, what draws the visitor down to the delis [on Scotland Street],” he said. “This is another opportunity to draw the visitor down the street, check out the College even more, and widen them beyond the historic area that they are here to see.”
Gerdelman said that the Real Estate Foundation’s work was not complete with the opening of construction on Tribe Square, citing the sale of a Newport News property donated to the College as a further opportunity for growth.
“For the Real Estate Foundation, this is just the beginning,” he said. “We just closed on the Oyster Point property so we have some venture funds, and we’re actually meeting today to see what else we can do around campus as far as investing for the good of the town and the students.”