the north face shorts James City County eyes waterfront investment at marina
The county is looking at waterfront improvements and a restaurant in James City County Marina after a brewery put down roots in the area.
In 2015, the county elected to hold onto the marina despite offers from several buyers, including a $500,000 pitch from Eco Discovery Park founder Steve Rose, who had operated the property for more than three years.
With the marina firmly in hand, county officials now look to develop the area, both with water access and as a commercial space, calling it a potentially huge economic asset with further development.
“I think it’s a very valuable piece of land for the county,” James City Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ruth Larson said of the marina. Larson represents the Berkeley District, where the marina is located.
The county values the marina at more than $3.5 million, according to the assessor’s office.
In the wake of Billsburg Brewery’s opening in October, James City Parks and Recreation has $1.2 million queued up for a major renovation project at the marina in late 2019.
The funds, which were allocated as part of the department’s 2018 fiscal year budget, will be used to replace the marina’s bulkhead, floating docks and both covered slips. The department will request an additional $320,000 in fiscal year 2019 for the roughly $1.5 million project, Parks and Recreation Director John Carnifax said.
The county aims to have a design firm in place this spring and has its sights on a November or December start date for construction, Carnifax said.
While renovations were identified years ago, the project had been delayed while the county decided whether it would keep the marina. The upgrade is expected to boost revenue and provide a better experience for boaters who utilize the facilities. The marina’s two covered slips hold 60 boats, and there’s a waiting list of boaters looking for space there, Carnifax said.
The trick will be doing the construction in the winter to minimize its impact on boaters. People who keep boats at the covered slips can pay dry storage fees to have their craft kept at the marina during the construction. If the construction can’t be done this winter, the project will be shelved until the following winter, Carnifax said.
Along with some uncovered slips, the marina has about 85 usable slips total. Some uncovered slips are unusable, but with repairs could be rented out. The current slips generate about $100,000 annually. That number is expected to increase once slips are repaired, Carnifax said.
The proposed investment comes amid early signs of success for the marina’s budding commercial side.
Based on the feedback from customers, Billsburg Brewery has filled a need in the area. It may serve as a strong stepping off point for future marina development,
owner Dave Baum said.
“As they keep telling us, they’ve had no place to go this side of town,” Baum said.
While the brewery has attracted local residents, it also benefits from the Virginia Capital Trail.
“People that have been on the Capital Trail riding their bikes have been a pleasant surprise for us. They’ve come out in abundance,” Baum said.
The brewery has meshed well with other nearby tourist attractions, such as Jamestown Settlement, which suggests the marina can be both an ensemble member and solo act as development continues, Baum said.
“The destination was important to us. We’re a destination brewery,” Baum said.
Looking forwardVisitors tend to spend two to three hours at Jamestown Settlement. Improving the quality of nearby attractions such as the marina could entice more people to spend more time and money in the county, Economic Development Director Amy Jordan said.
“It allows people to have multiple experiences,” Jordan said.
With waterfront improvements on the front burner, the form commercial development will take is an open question, though a restaurant is in the offering. The county expects to conduct studies into the feasibility of a restaurant and other potential businesses in fiscal year 2019 or 2020, Jordan said.
A number of different ventures could compliment Billsburg, such as a local restaurant or coffee shop, Baum said.
“It’s vague in my head as to what this area actually needs. We know it’s not a strip mall. We know it’s not more housing. We think it’s just more small, local businesses. I think keeping it local is very important,” Baum said. Baum estimates the brewery spent up to $900,000 along with a $100,000 state grant for the construction.
Whether the county would extend a helping hand to a future business like it did Billsburg remains to be seen. It’s a model worth keeping in mind as conversations about how to finance new businesses at the marina develop, Larson said.
But while officials are excited by the marina’s potential, there are hurdles to future success, namely size and transportation.
At 38 acres, the marina is considered a small area to fit multiple businesses into.
It’ll take a coordinated effort between county departments, such as Parks Recreation and Economic Development, to make the area a success, Larson said.
How to juggle transportation and traffic safety is another concern. The marina and surrounding area is envisioned as a walk able recreational area, with the marina’s entrance a stone’s throw from Jamestown Settlement and fairly close to Jamestown Beach Event Park as well. Traffic may pose a safety concern should the number of pedestrians increase in the area. A traffic study expected in the coming years should shed light on the best way forward,