On November 17, 2016, more than 100 Williamsburg residents, area dignitaries and City staff joined Mayor Paul Freiling and members of the Williamsburg City Council in the Stryker Center for the 2016 State of the City Address. Read the address is below or click here for the PDF version.

You can also watch the address online.



 2016 State of the City Address -

Recently, a friend shared the story of a young man growing up in an Air Force family.  His father was transferred every few years, and so the boy was forced to adapt to new surroundings time after time.  The adjustment periods were difficult because he was forced to make new friends and fit in within each new community.  His last stop was the most difficult of all.  He moved in the middle of the year, where friendships and cliques were already established.  He found that he didn’t fit in with any group, so he became isolated.  His only solace was on the basketball court, where he immersed himself in his craft.  There he excelled because there he was in control.  But even as he met success, there were those around him who were constant detractors, telling him all the reasons he would fail.  He remembered their words and their faces, and used them as motivation throughout his life.

When I first read this, I felt sorry for the young man.  But after further reflection, it became clear that the real losers were the members of the community that never got to know him.  They never benefitted from all that young man had to offer—his drive, his determination, his passion for life, and his genuine sense of care and concern for his fellow man. The community turned its back on all of the gifts that he had to contribute and, in so doing, deprived themselves of the enrichment of their own lives.

So what does this have to do with the State of the City?  Simply put, Williamsburg will not make that mistake.  We are and we will continue to be an inclusive and welcoming community to all.  Rather than emphasize differences, we will celebrate them.  Rather than excluding anyone, we will look to include everyone.  After all, a community is a collection of individuals, each of whom has something to add to the social, cultural, intellectual, athletic, and human mosaic.  To be anything else is to be diminished. Besides, the world is always better when it enjoys more love, care, and concern among its inhabitants.

By the way, that young man’s name was Ray Allen.  Mr. Allen played in the NBA for 18 seasons, 10 as an all-star.  He is the NBA’s career leader in three-point shots made, and he won Olympic gold with Team USA and NBA championships with the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. Most importantly, though, he is a husband and the proud father of five amazing children.

Good evening and welcome to the Stryker Center for Williamsburg’s sixth “State of the City” address. 

I am honored to speak to you this evening in partnership with my colleagues on the Williamsburg City Council as well as on behalf of the City organization and its dedicated staff.  A staff that daily demonstrates exemplary public service to all residents of and visitors to Williamsburg. They are the heart and soul of this inclusive, non-partisan, local government.  Guiding staff’s efforts through policy decisions are my colleagues Vice-Mayor Scott Foster and Council Members Doug Pons, Barbara Ramsey, and Benny Zhang, along with me.  Other elected officials or their representatives present this evening include Delegate Mike Mullin, Thomas Cross from Senator Monty Mason’s office, and Chair of the James City County Board of Supervisors Michael Hipple. Also in attendance this evening are our predecessors and valued past colleagues:  former Williamsburg Council Members Bobby Braxton and Judy Knudson, former Vice Mayor Chips Houghland, and former Williamsburg Mayors Jeanne Zeidler and Clyde Haulman. It is a privilege for each of us to sit here in a chamber filled with our many community partners, volunteers, appointed board members, engaged citizens and staff, and friends, all of whom are worthy of recognition.  Thank you all for being here.

This Stryker Center setting provides an appropriate venue to initiate an open, transparent, and inclusive dialogue about our shared effort to advance the City of Williamsburg into the implementation phase of the 2017 and 2018 Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes.  The biennial strategic planning process was designed for community input, emphasized the use of technology to promote accessibility, and provided a platform for all voices to be heard.  Community participation in the process included workshops by the Planning Commission, Economic Development Authority, and City Council, in addition to a Council Retreat and several Council meetings with opportunities for direct public comment.  For residents who preferred a digital response or needed the use of technology for accessibility reasons, the City also initiated an online, open forum that mirrored the opportunities provided in the community workshop.  All totaled, the process has generated 49 initiatives with 124 action items that are supported by 54 outcome measures and 122 National Citizen Survey measures under eight broad goal categories that will guide the policy and budget processes for the next two years.  This is not the City Manager’s plan or the City Council’s plan; rather, this is our community’s plan.

In the 2014 “State of the City” address, Mayor Haulman emphasized the need for resiliency – the flexibility and adaptability of a community to meet challenges and change – in the forms of economic resiliency, resiliency of the built environment, and human resiliency.  While the need to maintain a resilient city is no less today, new challenges await, and we are preparing to meet those head on.  Of course, new opportunities are on the horizon, as well, and we are determined to make the most of them.

The focus of City Council in the “State of the City” address this year is to work towards a community that welcomes all voices and provides processes and opportunities for the inclusion of all views.  Such a focus is not new to the history of Williamsburg, but the current times necessitate that we emphasize even more the importance of civil discourse and encourage all views to be heard on the path to policy decisions.  As such, the policy initiatives within the Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes provide not only the opportunity to address a broad range of challenges faced across the community, but also represent the multitude of opportunities for the residents, businesses, and partners of the city to participate in shaping the future of the community.  It is only through timely investment, strategic planning, cooperative community partnerships, and maintaining a welcoming spirit that the City will succeed in meeting its challenges as we strive to maintain and enhance special places of our past, restore relevance to aging corridors, establish places that inspire, and advance the City organization.

To this end, we gather tonight in the Stryker Center. This is a new facility that represents a place for all members of our community to convene.  It is designed to inspire forward thinking and is imbued with technology, to foster the ideas, vision, and consensus that can only be achieved through open and transparent government.  The “State of the City” address is Williamsburg’s opportunity to acknowledge our challenges, highlight accomplishments, and set a path towards a brighter future as one community.

The challenges faced in the Williamsburg community are not unlike those faced by many in the Commonwealth and Nation:

  • Nationally, the income gap resulting from the transition from a production economy to a service economy and further aggravated by the Great Recession continues to put economic pressure on the families and businesses across this great country, which has a direct impact on our region and on our community.
  • While instances of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families locally has dropped from 32 to 21 in the past two years, there is no doubt that families remain financially stressed with the average number of residents receiving Medicaid increasing from 533 to 640 and food stamps remaining level at 586 to 584 over the past two years, but higher than historic numbers.

  • As property values thankfully recover from the 14% drop between 2010 and 2013, there is a downside.  The number of homes valued below $250,000 available for affordable or workforce housing has slipped from 53% to 51% over the past two years.
  • Our strategic partners at the College of William and Mary, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Williamsburg-James City County School System, and the tourism industry continue to face challenges in adapting business models and/or meeting growth demands.

Together, the City of Williamsburg and our community partners are prepared to meet these challenges for the betterment of our entire community. 

Now I will ask my fellow City Council members to share with you some of the many recent recognitions that attest to the quality of our City organization.

  • Police Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) re-accreditation as an Advanced Meritorious Agency in 2015.  Williamsburg is one of the 640 accredited agencies out of 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the nation and has remained CALEA accredited for 29 years.
  • International City/County Management Association Center for Performance Management – Certificate of Excellence for 2016.
  • Virginia Municipal League Go Green Platinum Certification in 2016.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “Storm Ready” Community Designation granted in 2015.  Williamsburg is one of 49 cities and counties in Virginia and 1,194 local governments nationally with the designation.
  • Williamsburg Farmers Market Ranked 4thNationally and 2ndin Virginia by the American Farmland Trust in 2016.
  • Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award in 2016 for the 24thconsecutive year.
  • Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting in 2016 for the 30thconsecutive year.
  • Public Works was re-certified by the Department of Environmental Quality for the E4 Environmental Excellence Certification which is the most prestigious level of the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program recognizing a commitment to innovations in environmental protection.  Williamsburg is one of 5 Virginia cities and counties that earned the certification.
  • Stryker Center designated as a LEED Silver Certified Building by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Insurance Services Office provided a Fire Protection Rating of 2, placing Williamsburg in the top 3% of 47,696 rated fire districts.
  • Recognized by the Center for Digital Government as a Digital Cities Award Top Ranked City as 3rdPlace for Cities under 75,000 in population.
  • IT Department recognized in 2015 with a Public Technology Institute Solutions Award.
  • International City/County Management Association and National Citizen Survey Voice of the People Award for Transformation in Recreation and Wellness in September 2015.
  • Healthy Eating Active Living City 2016 Platinum recognition by the Institute for Public Health Innovation in 2016.

These recent recognitions represent a collaborative effort and countless hours expended by the City staff, Council, citizen volunteers, and community partners.  Recent community recognitions include being designated the 3rdBest Historic City in the Nation by USA Today and listed in the Top 50 Best College Towns to Live in Forever.  This list is not provided as a means to boast, but rather to remind our community that, even in somewhat challenging times, the City organization and the community it serves are exceptional.  This would not be possible if we did not all work together.

Further, the City organization exits the 2015 and 2016 Biennium with a strong wind at its back, thanks in large part to the contributions of former City Manager Jack Tuttle, Mayor Clyde Haulman, and Councilwoman Judy Knudson.  The following achievements are but a few of the many shared accomplishments of the last biennium that will influence community engagement and place-making moving forward:

The construction and opening of the Stryker Center, in partnership with the Williamsburg Regional Library, provides varied spaces in which the business of the community may be conducted and leisure opportunities may be enjoyed—all within a modern design that achieved LEED silver construction standards.

The City remains fiscally strong with the fund balance reported at $33.1 million in the soon-to-be-issued Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.  Fiscal year 2016 ended with an operating surplus of $2.16 million available to invest in our future capital needs.

Downtown Vibrancy, Design, and Marketing Study is in-progress, and a Downtown Parking Study was recently completed.  Both efforts are anticipated to guide the City as we seek to encourage an ever more vibrant downtown with unique business offerings and public spaces. This commitment to community planning leads to a welcoming and inviting environment for residents, visitors, and businesses.

The York Street entry corridor beautification has transformed this important artery with a wonderful new sidewalk, multi-use path, road resurfacing with bike lanes, landscaping, and streetlights.  This public investment in place was coordinated with private-sector investment in neighboring commercial properties and leveraged to create an aesthetically pleasing means to enter or depart the Historic Area and Downtown for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.

The City purchased and cleared two underperforming motel properties during the previous two years on Capitol Landing Road, opening the path to future redevelopment.  In addition, the City recently completed the purchase of a third hotel property on Richmond Road and is in the process of clearing the property which will stimulate further investment in Midtown.  The opening of the Copper Fox Distillery on Capitol Landing Road is a tremendous example of the benefit of initial City investment in the purchase of an underutilized motel and the subsequent return of property to the private sector.  In this specific case, it also speaks to the future craft beverage and restaurant presence in our new Culinary Arts and Tourism District, and it well complements our existing tourism industry.

Following cooperative funding decisions by James City County and the City of Williamsburg, the school system proceeded to complete the design and initiated construction of the 4th middle school at the James Blair school site in the City.  The community eagerly anticipates the opening of the innovative learning environment in 2018 that will provide renewed space for the imaginative spirit of the youth of our community.  Just as investment in public education is essential for the future of our democratic republic and the right thing to do for our children’s future, it is also an investment in economic development.

Public safety personnel have continued to maintain a safe community through the provision of consistent, professional, and exceptional service.  Police department average response times for emergency calls remain under three minutes with fire and EMS call response times remaining less than five minutes.  The Insurance Service Organization awarded the City fire service a rating of 2, a dramatic improvement from the previous rating of 4.  This exceptional service translates potentially to reduced insurance premium calculations for our businesses and residents.

The Greater Williamsburg Partnership (GWP) was formed by the Economic Development Authorities and governing bodies of James City County, York County, and the City of Williamsburg in 2015.  The group moved to establish a shared branding and marketing initiative and website.  The GWP is initiating joint efforts to recruit identified target industries and to encourage existing businesses to expand.  Together, the three jurisdictions, through the GWP, have the opportunity to attract jobs to this area in a powerful and focused manner by highlighting the many advantages of our collective community.

Sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, underground wiring and a major road resurfacing enhanced multi-modal transportation and the aesthetic appearance of City streets throughout Williamsburg.  In addition to benefitting all residents, investment in public infrastructure creates the quality places needed for our business partners to expand and attract visitors to commercial areas and positions us all well for the future. 

The challenge of the new 2017 and 2018 Biennium is to stimulate partnership in action through community engagement, investment in place, and efforts to modernize the City organization.  I will request my fellow City Council members assist in reporting the opportunities identified in the Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes we adopted earlier this month:

The implementation of the following policy initiatives will highlight community engagement efforts in the coming two years:

  • The city will invest in community policing through implementation of body worn cameras, fair and impartial policing, and a review of community policing and school resource officer staffing.
  • Complete the Downtown Vibrancy, Design, and Marketing Study and seek opportunities and partnerships to implement its community based findings.
  • Conduct a Parks, Recreation, and Culture Master Plan to be sure the sports, leisure and open spaces in our community meet the high standards for quality of life for our residents and visitors.
  • Evaluate housing needs in the City and in conjunction with our neighboring jurisdictions and community partners, work to identify and initiate further efforts to address the availability and affordability of workforce housing, aging public housing, rental market units, accessible housing opportunities, and transient housing.
  • Identify the existing conditions and opportunities for digital infrastructure to begin efforts to increase affordable and reliable access to technology by all members of the community with appropriate speed to encourage business development.
  • Seek opportunities to build on the Healthy Community Initiatives in place in the city in continued partnership with neighboring jurisdictions and community organizations like the Williamsburg Health Foundation to include methods to increase senior access to healthy food and further designations as a bicycle and pedestrian friendly community.
  • Continue and complete the implementation of the replicable, Care Team pilot program to improve the health of city children in continued partnership with the Human Services Department, Williamsburg Health Foundation, Child Development Resources, and W-JCC School System.
  • Implement technologies to improve neighborhood relations and improve service provision such as the Re-collect waste and recycling notification application available on the City website that can be used by residents for reminders on waste removal days, leaf collection schedules, and waste disposal questions.

While all initiatives include public involvement, the next area of emphasis involves the relevance of the built environment and anticipated efforts to invest in creating places that attract residents, businesses, and visitors.  Upcoming policy initiatives in this category include:

  • Redevelopment efforts in the Midtown area surrounding the Williamsburg Shopping Center location to re-imagine the next generation of uses and encourage the preservation of successful existing uses.
  • Reimagining the streetscape for Capitol Landing Road to provide an exceptional public environment to encourage redevelopment as a Culinary Arts Tourism Zone to attract visitors to a unique place for years to come and revive underperforming revenues in the process.
  • Completion of the Monticello Avenue multi-use trail connecting Ironbound Road to Treyburn Drive through a lighted trail to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the College of William & Mary.
  • Implement improvements at existing parks to increase accessibility for users and encourage sports tourism.  The City will also explore an opportunity to develop the Paper Mill Creek Park site in partnership with the National Park Service to provide a premier passive park opportunity for the southern portion of the City and provide pedestrian connectivity to neighboring areas.
  • Continue efforts to replace and upgrade water and sewer infrastructure to maintain reliable, safe potable water and protect the environment from unnecessary spills.
  • Partner with community members and the Williamsburg Regional Library to provide city-wide opportunities for public art and renovate aging Library space.

Much like the built environment, the City organization is due an evaluation and sprucing to update aging facilities, technologies, and policies.  Efforts to modernize the City organization include:

  • Conduct and implement improvements to the City parking program to improve the customer experience downtown and improve residential parking enforcement.
  • Complete a replacement of the Enterprise Resource Program to replace an aging finance system infrastructure involving nearly every department and significant staff resources.
  • Establish a communication plan to enhance and update city websites, social media use, and applications available to enhance e-service provision to City customers.
  • Explore opportunities to install clean energy systems on City properties to increase energy diversity in the region.
  • Evaluate the existing aging public safety facilities to determine appropriate renovation or replacement steps to provide modern and safe work environments for the police and fire staff.

While not a comprehensive report of City efforts and services over the next two years, these policy initiatives provide a roadmap for all of us to work together.  We are prepared as a community to invest in the next generation of public places that create the fabric upon which we, as residents, evaluate our quality of life and define our sense of community. 

I encourage everyone to participate with the City organization moving Williamsburg forward as a welcoming community of diverse interests. Through inclusive processes and in full partnership with the people who live, work, and visit, our community will move forward as the safe, beautiful, livable, financially strong City envisioned in our Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes.  It is a privilege to report that the “state of the city” is strong, forward-looking, and seeking a vibrant future for all of its residents.  But let us not forget that, in order to go forward, we all must do our part, and we must do it in concert.  So I ask each of you to join us and share the diverse talents, perspectives, and experiences that together are Williamsburg.

In closing, please allow me once again to thank Reed Nester in retirement for his decades of leadership in our Planning Department and also to acknowledge the tremendous contributions of Police Chief Dave Sloggie for his 40 years of service to the citizens of Williamsburg.  Job well done, Chief—we owe you.  And thanks much to Sandi Filicko and Gerry Walton for their efforts to organize this evening’s event and to arrange for the delightful hospitality.

On behalf of my Council colleagues, thank you for being here tonight for the “State of the City” event. It is our continued honor to serve this community.  As we approach the coming holiday, we give thanks to you for bestowing upon us your trust and your confidence, for which we will do our utmost to prove our worthiness.  In return, we send our best wishes to all for a happy Thanksgiving.  Good night.

You may download a printable pdf here.

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