Statement on the Vice President Appointment to the Virginia Transit Association

 

Richmond, VA - Following this morning's Virginia Transit Association Board of Directors meeting, Williamsburg Councilman Benming “Benny” Zhang was unanimously confirmed as the next Vice President of the Virginia Transit Association. He replaces outgoing Vice President Chad Green (York County Board of Supervisors) for a two-year term. The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority is also a member jurisdiction of the Virginia Transit Association.

Zhang said, I am deeply honored to earn the appointment for Vice President of the Virginia Transit Association. I look forward to joining President Diantha McKeel (Albermarle County) in supporting VTA’s efforts statewide. I would also like to express my appreciation to outgoing Vice-President Chad Green and past immediate President David Snyder (Falls Church) for their service to all things Virginia transit.”

About VTA: Founded in 1977, the Virginia Transit Association (VTA) provides public education and legislative advocacy to support public transportation systems throughout the Commonwealth. The VTA has 57 total members, which include 24 transit properties and 33 business and associate members. For more info, please visit the VTA website: http://vatransit.com/

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Statement on the Passage of the Tourism Development Fund

Williamsburg, VA - "Over the past few months, residents and business owners have asked us to slow down and consider alternative funding mechanisms, in addition to exploring a regional approach for a shared outcome. With the passage of the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) today, I will continue to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used effectively. I welcome any revisions to the TDF to address my concerns and those of residents and business owners should a majority of Council be open to it."

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Statement on Tribe Square Vacancies

WILLIAMSBURG, VA - Williamsburg City Councilman Benming Zhang released the following statement on Thursday morning:

“I am deeply disappointed by the departure of the last remaining tenant from Tribe Square. With the eviction of The Crust, the property is now completely vacant. Students have lost several valuable off-campus options in four years.”

As then-Mayor Haulman stated in 2011, Tribe Square was conceived as a town-gown project that would draw student residents to amenities within walking distance while contributing to our City’s downtown atmosphere.

While this is private property owned by the College’s Real Estate Foundation, there is a vested public interest to see these retail spaces succeed.

“Since I began serving on City Council, I have regularly communicated my concerns to the Foundation to no avail. The Foundation showed promise with their past redevelopment plans, but their lack of action is frustrating.”

“The Foundation should consider the impact their actions have on student residents. If they have imminent plans for filling these vacant spaces, they should release them as soon as possible.”

“This news reaffirms my commitment to pressing the Real Estate Foundation and College administration to provide suitable amenities in the spirit of the original Tribe Square proposal.”

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Statement on the City Council’s Decision Re: Tourism Development Fund

Williamsburg, VA - On Thursday, the Williamsburg City Council postponed a vote on the Tourism Development Fund until July, concluding that members needed more information before making a final decision.  

Zhang said, “I am pleased to see Council make the right move by delaying the adoption of the Tourism Development Fund and an unprecedented tax increase. As I have said from the beginning, we must not approve the Tourism Development Fund without fully understanding the consequences. The City needs to conduct an economic impact study and engage with key stakeholders and the public in a transparent way.”

Zhang received dozens of emails and phone calls from citizens urging against the tax increase. A number of concerned constituents also attended the Thursday City Council meeting to voice their disapproval.

“Today upheld our longstanding tradition of fiscally responsible government. I am thankful to residents for their valuable and diverse input while this proposal was being considered,” Zhang said.  

Zhang also hoped more research would bring clarity to the proposal, “Taking a step back and reevaluating the Fund with more information about its impact on our city, present and future, is the correct way to proceed. We should not waste a prime opportunity to better our community by rushing to implement under-advised policies.”  

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Statement on the Tourism Development Fund Item in Work Session

June 6, 2017

Williamsburg, VA - During today’s monthly City Council work session, Williamsburg City Manager Marvin E. Collins, III presented an updated Tourism Development Fund concept to members of City Council and to the public. On the docket for Thursday’s meeting consists of a 2% increase on both meals (5%) and rooms taxes (5%) to 7% each. In addition, the City will establish an admissions tax of 7%. All three would amount to the single largest tax increase in the city’s history.

My concerns are as follows:

  1. A study is needed to articulate a vision for the proposed Tourism Development Fund. With every major initiative in the City, there is a deliberate manner handled to implement and execute policies. A study would outline best practices moving forward and assess the viability of proposed projects to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent judiciously and effectively.

  2. Lack of community input. The process started on the beginning of this year’s Finance Retreat, when a snapshot concept was introduced the Council. One citizen was present and the meeting was not broadcast to the public. An updated concept, with significant changes, was introduced at the April Work Session, spurring community conversation. Based on the public reaction so far, many citizens and organizations have mixed feelings about the current proposal. How does the City expect to succeed with this major initiative when there is a lack of faith and consensus from our partners?

  3. More questions than answers. It was evident in yesterday’s work session that Councilmembers were not on the same page, beginning with defining the crucial policy question of “generational change” regarding tourism infrastructure development, and even the composition of the TDF review committee board. The potential return-of-investment (ROI) is unknown, notably what kind of tourism product the Tourism Development Fund would be funding. How can we expect our city businesses and residents to shoulder a greater burden when the ROI is uncertain?  

Zhang said, “We must be deliberate in our policy-making process; we can afford to wait until a study is completed. We cannot just raise and spend taxpayer dollars through a rushed process. What I will be voting on Thursday must meet the test of how exactly the Tourism Development Fund is in the best interests of city residents, businesses, and the city burdened by the tax increases. We must not rush to pass something that could have such an impact on the city.”

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City Council passes Williamsburg Tourism Zone, Among First Priority for Benny Zhang

October 31, 2016

Williamsburg, VA - Today, the Williamsburg City Council unanimously approved the creation of the Williamsburg Tourism Zone (Ordinance #16-19). The Williamsburg Tourism Zone comes as a part of a series of zoning changes: along with the creation of a zoning designation (Ordinance #16-008), rezoning approximately 76 acres of property (Ordinance #16-010) and an infusion of public investment in infrastructure.

The passage of the Williamsburg Tourism Zone was a key plank of Benny Zhang’s campaign platform. Zhang said, “I am thrilled that the Williamsburg Tourism Zone will be incorporated as part of a major redevelopment plan to provide tax incentives along with public capital on ‘complete street’ improvements to spur private investment. I am grateful to have contributed my own research on tourism zones in other localities to help make this initiative a reality.”

Tourism zones are a state tool that empower localities to provide tax incentives. The Williamsburg Tourism Zone refunds a portion of future new tax incentive revenue to help new businesses grow or for existing businesses to expand. It plays an equitable, major role with City efforts to revitalize the “Northeast Triangle” planning area, which has been a stated policy objective from the Goals, Initiative, and Outcomes (GIOs) process from past and current City Councils.

“I am excited for the long term positive impact this will have, and look forward to its evaluation report in six months. City staff deserves much praise for their creativity and comprehensive approach toward developing the Williamsburg Tourism Zone. This unanimous vote indicates city council willingness to move forward on this initiative together and is a step in the right direction for the city.”

For more information, please visit http://williamsburg-va.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=329 and look under “City Manager Reports”

News Coverage:

Wydaily: City rezones Northeast Triangle into ‘culinary arts’ and tourism district