No Taxation Without Capitalization: Colonial Williamsburg Seeks Tax Break After Losing $227 Million In Five Years

Colonial Williamsburg is one of my favorite spots in Virginia.  You can walk around the preserved city and get a sense of colonial life.  However, it appears that Williamsburg is high on history and low on profits.  The non-for-profit has revealed that it has lost $277 million in the last five years and laid off 71 workers.  Despite outsourcing work and cutting back, Colonial Williamsburg is struggling at a time when the city of Williamsburg is threatening to levy a new 7 percent admissions tax and increase both hotel and meal taxes.  The tax increases seem rather odd when the venerable institution is already struggling to keep the candles burning.  This is the main draw for the area and it would seem that the city and state could do more than impose new taxes to help support this historic area.

Executive Director Mitchell Reiss has written to local governments to ask for a three-year reprieve from paying real estate and personal property taxes as well as service and business license fees. That would seem reasonable in light of the cuts and austerity program implemented by Reiss and his staff.  The commercial arm of the foundation, the Colonial Williamsburg Company, has yet to post an annual profit since it was formed in 1983.

Local governments collect $2.3 million annually in real estate and property taxes, service fees and business licenses.  I was a bit surprised that Colonial Williamsburg was required to pay taxes.  However, Councilman Douglas Pons warned that,  if Colonial Williamsburg is given a pass, it would increase the burden on others.  That is a rather bizarre take in my view. This is the defining institution of Williamsburg (with William and Mary College).  It is not just some commercial enterprise.  The city should be proud to have such a unique feature that brings an international collection of visitors each year.

Of course, this is the same city occupied for two days in 1781 by the traitorous Benedict Arnold at the head of an army of 1500 men. It has known both treachery and taxes imposed by an uncaring government.  As Thomas Paine would say, these are times that try men’s souls but Colonial Williamsburg deserves the support of both its local government and patriots everywhere.

17 thoughts on “No Taxation Without Capitalization: Colonial Williamsburg Seeks Tax Break After Losing $227 Million In Five Years”

  1. I’m sure I will be in the minority here but I hated “colonial” Williamsburg when I visited with my parents some years ago – couldn’t put my finger on as to why. Some years later while writing a paper on the simulacra of culture in Las Vegas I happened upon “The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion” by Ada Louise Huxtable and then my reaction made sense. Because whatever “there was there” has been semi eradicated and it has no soul – it is like Disney World due to what Huxtable refers to as “authentic reproduction”

  2. Since our colonial history is rarely taught or appreciated anymore in public schools, of course attendance is going to down all along the eastern seaboard. This is the new reality.

  3. I am not sure what to think because it is my understanding that the Williamsburg Foundation has run a profit of about $20Million at least in 2015 and their assets (probably including land) are huge. What is the exact entity that is losing $227Million in 5 years? Their liabilities to assets was 24%.

  4. Philanthropic concerns should, quite properly, be fully re-imbursed by state governments for their local property tax payments. If they sell goods and services, they should pay sales taxes on equal terms with commercial enterprises.

    It’s exceedingly sad that Colonial Williamsburg is suffering. If they fail, the state and the localities are going to have to ask whether or not it should be maintained by parks departments.

  5. I absolutely support maintaining our historical sites through tax breaks, etc. Have been to Williamsburg and it it wonderful. However, what is so very frustrating is the hypocrisy of which sites should be maintained. I refer to historical sites related to the Confederacy. Old Williamsburg undoubtedly had slaves, but I do not hear of anyone dismantling it. Would like to see some consistency.

  6. Tax/subsidy, tax/subsidy. Damn, now which was Laffer saying would provide more of something.

    1. Have you been there? Regrettably, the conduct of the employees deteriorated noticeably between 1974 and 1997 (all the misconduct I witness was by female employees, btw). This may help sell the place to a certain clientele. It repels another sort of client.

  7. There are many who believe that if an endeavor cannot make a profit, it isn’t worth doing — under any circumstances.

    1. Jay S – well, that would take care of Shakespeare in the Park.

      1. It certainly would. I didn’t say that ** I ** believed in profit-as-the-only-reason-to-do-anything, but I have heard many others say or imply it.

  8. Not for profits still have to pay taxes, but you do not want to tax them out of business. If they are an economic draw to the community, then you make sure they are happy campers.

    However, if they have lost that much money, they really need to get retired business experts to come in and give them some advice. What they are asking is not unreasonable since they have been around so long. However, they still need some serious expert help to make their business survive.

    1. I think house museums are suffering generally. The availability of Youtube videos and what not reduces the inclination to experience them palpably.

      1. dss – that is too bad. The most knowledgeable tour guide I ever had was at Lincoln’s Law Offices.

  9. Stupid is as …etc. It reigns rampant everywhere. Case in point. Spud Point Marina just north of SF Bay after the 2008 economic crash solved the problem by a 50% rate hike. They also charged a liveaboard fee designed to discourage travelers migrating from Canada and the Pacific NW or circling in from the Pacific by charging a two people minimum liveaboard fee.

    Their 70% occupancy went to less than 30% in less than a year. while the next marina south and just south of the Golden Gate and those a bit to the north remained full.

    they had a small commercial work yard with a travel lift. IT closed and the travel lift was not maintained to the point the company refused to overhaul it some years later

    Why? it was owned by the county government. The same, heavily in debt local government decided to promote a new bicycle path on 101 the Pac Coast Highway. with no regard on how to pay for it.

    Tje State Gpverment in charge of local fishing limits rulings made certain the salmon and crab stocks would be depleted thus killing that industry.

    Now they are completing two huge drive through tunnels from SF Bay to the already using 500 gallons per day per occupant of the Orange/LA County Area. that incudes chidren. with no regard to the ecology of San Pablo and San Francisco Bay.

    The parable of the Golden Goose is alive and well and that species is doomed in Taxifornia. The question is not separating from the USA it is more a case of can the USA continue to support these slop trough hogs?

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