By Annie Kinniburgh
Less than a mile from campus, UMW students can look out over Civil War battlefields and picturesque Confederate graveyards. They can visit old apothecaries and see George Washington’s boyhood home. This is what Fredericksburg is known for–its rich and vibrant historical significance.
Now take this idyllic Civil War town and add a $230 million water-park hotel complex called the Kalahari Resorts.
If the Fredericksburg City Council approves a letter of intent allowing the city to work out an agreement with Kalahari, late 2009 could see just that happening.
Based on the opinions expressed at public meetings, citizens of Fredericksburg seem to be in favor of the deal, and it’s easy to see why. Kalahari would bring in more tourism and thus more revenue.
Fredericksburg isn’t poor enough to merit additional money from the state, but is poor enough to make a serious money-maker like Kalahari seem like a godsend. Local businesses would see more customers, especially in the restaurant-packed Central Park. And, to be honest, in a town people call “quaint” because it sounds better than “boring,” a little excitement never hurt anyone. All in all, Kalahari sounds like a good deal.
My question, though, is this: In helping Fredericksburg, will Kalahari overshadow and even cheapen everything that makes this city what it is?
Fredericksburg, like Gettysburg and other Civil War towns, is known for its remembrance and examination of the past; its current tourism trade is rooted in its historical landmarks.
But think about it. Who’s going to care about Civil War battlefields with an indoor and outdoor waterpark, spa, and 10-story hotel (just to name some of the resorts proposed amenities) a stone’s throw away?
Who would be willing to travel downtown to Hyperion Espresso for the best $3 cappuccino on the East Coast (at least in my opinion) when Starbucks and room service practically bring it to you for a few dollars more?
And when compared to lounging in a lazy river on a hot summer’s day, who would be more tempted to comb antique shops instead?
Students who have spent a lot of time downtown know that Fredericksburg is all about the hidden treasures. Whether it’s the perfect birthday gift in Irish Eyes, a book signed by your favorite author in Riverby’s, or the legendary ice cream offered at Carl’s, Fredericksburg offers a lot–but you have to look for it. Kalahari is projected to bring in a million visitors a year, but I wonder how many of those will be willing to look when a $230 million distraction is capturing their attention instead.
I know I personally chose to come to UMW because I appreciated the relaxed and dignified atmosphere of this historical town. Fredericksburg, because of its small size and Southern heritage, is a close-knit, friendly community. People know their neighbors, and their neighbor’s neighbors. It’s a town defined by its history.
But in a few years, with Kalahari looming large over its old buildings, Fredericksburg looks like it may become defined by its water-park instead.
Annie Kinniburgh is a sophomore.