Fredericksburg Voters Have Spoken: Bring on the Waterpark!

Mayor Thomas Tomzak has won re-election in the City of Fredericksburg, trouncing his rival Debby Girvan by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin. The vote represents an overwhelming endorsement of the Kalahari waterpark project, the negotiation of which was Tomzak’s signature achievement. The Free Lance-Star has the story.

In my my recent column about Kalahari, “The Second Battle of Fredericksburg,” I gave extensive play to the criticisms leveled by Girvan and others against the Kalahari project, which will rebate nearly half the tax revenue collected by the city back to the Kalahari developer. Although the project will be a big financial winner for the city if the development proceeds as planned, the city could be a loser if the developer fails to line up his project financing. The city could be left holding the bag for $3 million in cash and in-kind expenses.

Critics also expressed concerns that Kalahari’s highly visible presence and marketing budget would define the identify of the city on the Rappahannock by the indoor waterpark, not its rich historical and cultural heritage. But voters either did not buy that logic or did not care.

The other big victor in Tomzak’s re-election is the Silver Companies, developer of the “Celebrate Virginia” tourism zone where Kalahari will be located. Silver Cos. has invested millions of dollars and considerable ingenuity in trying to promote the tract as a tourism zone with attractions that draw visitors from far outside the region. After a series of expensive setbacks, Kalahari could be the project that finally creates critical mass for Celebrate Virginia, creating momentum that Silver Cos. can build upon.

It will be interesting to see what happens to tourism attractions that rely upon visitors to arrive by automobile in an era of $120-per-barrel oil and $3.50-per-gallon gas prices. An optimistic scenario suggests that that travelers originating in the population centers of the Boston-Washington corridor might curtail their driving to Florida and settle for destinations closer to home, like Fredericksburg. A pessimistic scenario says that they’ll cut back on automobile vacations of all types. The voters of Fredericksburg have staked their future on the optimistic outcome. For their sake, I hope they’re right.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Gas prices are higher in Europe, but they still seem to go on vacation: and they have a lot more vacation.


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not sure how gas prices cause changes in tourism or vacations – but there are those that say that higher gas prices will actually INCREASE regional attractions like Kalahari…

    But .. I’m not sure that the Mayor prevailed BECAUSE of Kalahari but instead because he has been acknowledged as a collaborative leader who sees consensus as important or more so than any one particular issue.

    The city has, over the years, endured serious divisive and factional politics – and I think given a choice to continue with a more congenial atmosphere or to drop back to the bad old days of hate and discontent.. they chose the higher road.

    Good for them.

    When you are working together – the solutions come so much easier..

    good, bad or indifferent.. Fredericksbug will move on – past Kalahari and on to the next issues.

    Congrats to the peace-makers.

  3. Groveton Avatar

    No guts, no glory.

    Good for Fredricksburg!

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    So how about this for a headline:

    “About 15% of Fredericksburg’s registered voter’s have spoken.”

    Winning with 1,900 votes in a city with a population of 21,000 isn’t exactly a great advertisement for participatory democracy(or what I would call an overwhelming endorsement in your terminology).

    I’ll grant the game has rules and a win is win, but I’m reminded of that the Byrd machine designed much of our state’s electoral system to maintain “a small manageable electorate.”

    Snarking over your headline today aside, I did think your last piece on this was good solid reporting.


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    well.. the 15% certainly adds context to the whole concept of citizen involvement and perhaps and indication that Kalahari was only opposed by 5% of the citizens?

    Does than mean that 95% approved?


    I thought JB did well on the reporting also.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Math is hard I guess. The outcome is ultimately on the folks who stayed home, but I wouldn’t really take their silence as assent. Calling a mandate for something like this based on a low-turnout spring local election is a stretch.

  7. Rodger Provo Avatar
    Rodger Provo

    To All –

    Tuesday’s election was not a big
    mandate for anyone.

    Many of my friends did not vote
    for they thought they had little
    to choose from in this election.

    I know one couple who voted for
    write-in candidates, as a small

    The tourism campus site has by
    right zoning. It is subject to a
    memorandum of understanding to
    facilitate that concept which the
    city sought.

    Much of the commentary about this
    matter on this blog is “much to do
    about nothing.”

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    taking one of Rodger’s points to heart…

    let’s have elections that work this way:

    a mandatory choice on each ballot is “none of the above”.

    Everytime that “none of the above” … wins… you have another election within a month…

    and this keeps on until “none of the above” … loses…


  9. MATT KELLY Avatar

    Just had the opportunity to peruse Second Battle of Fredericksburg and would make a few corrections and/or clarifications if I may—

    1. A correction is in regard to your statement that I refused an interview. Let’s be honest– we have never spoken directly before. I cannot deny that you may have left a message (not that I got it) but I did not tell you verbally or in writing that I refused to talk to you about Kalahari. I would think that my past posting would indicate I don’t have a problem discussing issues. May I suggest that next time you join the 21st Century and send me an e-mail. Although I have now provided you with my cell phone number.

    2. Let’s comment on the Expo Center incentive package which was also to be based on performance, i.e., produce the money first, then you get your incentive. In the beginning of your piece you imply that the Expo Center was on shaky financial ground and later you endorse Mrs. Girvan’s concerns that we would be loosing revenue if the Expo Center were taken over by Kalahari. Which is it?

    Actually, the Expo Center has always been in good financial shape. It runs 20+ trade shows a year and generates, in all taxes, around $720,000 a year for the City. The incentives package was intended to encourage the Expo Center to go after more CONVENTION business. Weekend events are nice—three to four day events are better. They generate hotel taxes, more in meals taxes ect. To attract this time of business required the Expo Center to maintain a much greater overhead—staffing, catering etc.
    What we were trying to do was make a successful business more successful.

    As for the Expo Center inclusion in the TIF district we will continue to get all the revenue that it currently generates even after it is completely taken over by Kalahari. The base line for the TIF will be based on the revenue generated today with 20+ trade shows a year. Even after they stop we will still get the revenue, i.e., from now till the end of the incentives we get the first $720,000 + generated from the Expo Center.

    3. Pointing to our “shaky” city finances you brought up the use of $3.8 million in fund reserve for our 2008 budget. If you will look at Council actions in 2002 we started to intentionally increase fund balance in anticipation of some very large capital projects: two schools, a police station, recreation facilities and a pool. We use fund balance for capital projects. In your piece you seem to imply that we were using $3.8 million of fund reserves to pay for operating expenses. Yes we have used fund balance for operating expenses but, if I am not mistaken, not more than $450,000.00.

    There is no question that revenues are down STATEWIDE and that ALL localities have to deal with these issues. But all in all Fredericksburg is in better financial shape than most other localities.

    4. Up front expenses involve waiving charges for fees that are directly related to the project construction. These will total about $250,000.00. If they don’t build we aren’t out anything. Even on the off chance that they begin construction and then go bely-up the Silver Cos agreed to reimburse the city for any of those fees. They Silver Cos have also agreed to cover any staff overtime.

    Now lets talk about the $3 million in water/sewer fees. AGAIN I WILL POINT OUT THAT IF THE PROJECT IS NOT BUILT THE CITY PAYS NOTHING. The fees were set up years ago on the understanding that the City would have to bear the cost of bring water and sewer lines out to the annexed area. Well, in actuality we DIDN’T have to. The Silver Cos. paid for the entire water and sewer infrastructure through the Celebrate VA CDA. As for the water and sewer infrastructure improvements that are going to be made to the City system THEY NEED TO BE DONE WHETHER KALAHARI IS HERE OR NOT.

    And again there is the scenario put forward by some that if Kalahari is a failure the City will still have to cover $160,000 a year for (10) years to cover the fees. Even if a $260M project did mediocre business the real estate taxes alone would more than cover this expense.

    5. Another slight of hand I noticed in the piece was referring to the regional job demographics. Do you homework and look at the City’s. We have a higher unemployment rate and much lower median income than the region. And again the inference is that this is the only type of development we a looking for. Another inaccurate statement.

    6. Finally, Mayor Tomzak and Devine were NOT the only ones allowed to negotiate with Mr. Nelson. I and other members of Council had access to Mr. Nelson whenever we had a question or comment. The fact of the matter was that the issue of jobs benefits, marketing, ensuring that the development terms of the MOU between the City and the Silver Cos, to name a few, were added after the Sandusky trip after discussions between some of the Council members who were not on the Sandusky trip.

    I would again ask that you pull most other incentive packages from other localities and states and compare it with the City’s agreement. You will find that, unlike most, the amount of the incentives are LESS THAN 50% of revenues and include a number of conditions on the developer that you will not find in other agreements. AND THERE ARE NO UPFRONT COSTS FOR THE CITY UNTIL THE PROJECT IS BUILT.

    Mr. Bacon, next time may I suggest you send me an e-mail before you post on this or any issue facing the City of Fredericksburg. If you’ve got a question I’ll answer it.

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Matt, Thanks again for your amplification of key points in the Kalahari debate.

    I would say only that I wrote in the article that you “declined” to be interviewed, not that you “refused” to be interviewed, which implies that you might have answered, saying “hell no.” But even that misses the larger point that I contacted you by e-mail on short notice, not giving you a lot of opportunity to respond. It would have been fairer to say “did not respond to an interview request on short notice.”

    As you’ve made clear by your lengthy comments on this blog, you are willing to engage anyone on the issue, and for that I applaud you.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t know if Mr. Kelly stated it but he is ONE of VERY FEW Elected Public Officials who has a BLOG:

    that gets credit in my book.

    any public official who is willing to present him/herself for any question in a public venue… such as a town meeting or a Blog .. is an ethic that should be strongly encouraged.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    “In a potentially ominous harbinger for some cities in California and elsewhere, the Vallejo City Council voted to declare bankruptcy Tuesday night in the face of dwindling tax revenues, the housing market meltdown and a faltering economy.”

    new York Times

  13. Rodger Provo Avatar
    Rodger Provo

    To All –

    Time will tell us if the economic development plan now being pursed by Fredericksburg is a good one.

    We should consider these points:

    -the proposed National Slavery Museuem in Fredericksburg was touted as a major tourism catch for it, now it is only a concept falling short of the earlier hopes and facing stiff competition from
    an African-American Museum being
    developed on the National Mall by
    the Smithsonian.

    -the proposed convention-hotel
    waterpark development plan calls
    for the sale of hotel rooms as condominiums to be included in the
    resort management program in a
    market of declining interest in
    such a product.

    -this wonderful historic town is
    facing stiff competion from the
    region’s ugraded historic sites,
    museums and shopping venues.

    -traffic congestion on I-95 and
    in the Frericksburg area is
    hurting this community for it is
    a difficult town to visit.

    -the city is facing mounting expenses with declining revenues
    due to regional competition and a
    decline of personal income because of high energy costs for 50,000 area commuters.

    -unlike some governments, the city
    has been not yet come to grip with
    the fact that current economic
    conditions dictate it curb spending
    and rethink the role of the city

    Stay tune. The future will add more chapters to this story.

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