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Williamsburg approves joint sports center plan with York and James City counties

Photo from City of Williamsburg presentation.
Photo from City of Williamsburg presentation.

Williamsburg leaders formalized an agreement with York and James City counties to build a regional sports complex and add a performance venue to the site.

The center, originally introduced in 2014, will cost $80 million to build and is estimated to operate at a $400,000 loss annually.

“This council would definitely want to be transparent and not mislead people that there's some expectation that the facility itself is going to make money when we know it's not,” Williamsburg Vice Mayor Pat Dent said at a city council work session.

The financial benefit, according to developers, would come from money being spent in the community by sports center visitors. Williamsburg Mayor Doug Pons likened it to city services like a library or conference center.

“What makes it valuable for a tri-community area is that as people come in to experience (and) take advantage of the sports facility, they will be staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and so additional tax dollars come in that will support the community,” he said.

According to the approved agreement, Williamsburg will contribute 64% of the capital cost — about $51 million — from its Tourism Development Fund, while the remaining 36% will come out of the special governmental group formed between the localities to plan for the facility. That entity, the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority has money from the Historic Triangle Tourism Tax, implemented in 2018.

Operating costs will be provided by York and James City Counties — around $400,000 each in year one, and $800,000 each in years two through five.

Williamsburg used the same tourism tax to funnel revenue to its Tourism Development Fund to support the construction of the project. City leaders emphasized no money will come from the city’s general fund.

Virginia Beach recently canceled an agreement with the operator of its $68 million sports center that opened in 2020. It means the city now has to pay $6 million to take over operations.

Planning consultant Brian Connolly said there were a number of "red flags" in Virginia Beach's agreement, but that center did surpass its goal to spur residual spending.

“We projected about 35,000 or so incremental hotel nights associated with that project back in 2018, and this past year it generated over 50,000 hotel nights,” said Connolly, who worked with Virginia Beach on planning their sports center.

Williamsburg’s facility will host 12 full-size basketball courts, a conference center and climbing wall.

The 115,000 total square feet of playing space can be converted for a number of different sports.

The performance venue will be approximately 53,000 square feet, and hold around 2,500 people with both indoor and outdoor stages.

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