By: CATHALIJNE ADAMS
As the nation tightens its financial belt, Fredericksburg’s restaurants are bouncing back from the recent recession.
The Fredericksburg City Council is granting funds to several downtown businesses as part of the Economic Development Authority’s (EDA) five-year strategic plan, attracting new restaurants to the area.
The Fredericksburg EDA is appointed by the City Council to provide grants through its JumpStart! program to new or existing businesses that would further stimulate economic development in the city.
However, only the City Council may choose to give Fredericksburg businesses performance incentives.
With its strategic plan, the EDA hopes to expand tourism and the arts community as well as revitalize downtown Fredericksburg.
Karen Hedelt, director of Fredericksburg’s Economic Development and Tourism, said that as the economy picks up from the recession, restaurants have been leading the way to revitalization.
“Restaurants are the first category in the downtown mix to show significant reinvestment,” Hedelt said. “We expect retail to follow.”
Due in part to the five-year incentive package totaling $46,250 from the City Council, Longstreet’s restaurant has replaced Las Palmas and University Café at 409 William St.
The incentive package includes a 50 percent Business, Professional and Occupation License tax reduction, which is valued at $1,250 per year. It also provides 10 percent return of sales and meals tax, valued up to $8,000 a year.
Currently, Longstreet’s employs eight UMW students, but the restaurant’s General Manager and Operating Partner David Hanlon is cautious about hiring more UMW students.
“Like all other businesses in the area we have to be careful about hiring too many students,” he said.
Hanlon pointed out that at the end of the spring semester most UMW students return home.
According to Hanlon, Longstreet’s is designed to attract students with amenities like the arcade and billiards. Beyond students, Longstreet’s is committed to appealing to the general public, said Hanlon.
“I don’t think in this economy anyone can afford not to appeal to the general public,” he said.
The EDA has also received a grant request from the owners of another restaurant: F.W. Sullivan’s Olde Town Bar and Grille, a tavern-style establishment.
F.W. Sullivan’s is expected to replace Fatty J’s at 106 George St. in late June or early July. Owners Jake Crocker and Hayden Fisher have already established a F.W. Sullivan’s Fan Bar and Grille in Richmond’s historic Fan District.
Crocker and Fisher were attracted to Fredericksburg because of its situation as the southern portion of the Virginia Railway Express, the growth of Stafford and Spotsylvania, and the goals of the EDA.
“They’ve rolled out the red carpet,” Crocker said in reference to the EDA.
Crocker said that F.W. Sullivan’s is in line with the national trend of public interest going to a more urban environment as opposed to suburbia.
“Central Park is everything we’re against,” Crocker said.
F.W. Sullivan’s will be geared towards young professionals over the age of 25, he said. According to Crocker this is what will set it apart from Fatty J’s.
Crocker said that “what [F.W. Sullivan’s] not going to be is a glorified frat house.”
Freshman Nikko Ooi cited the lack of transportation and alternative entertainment and food options on campus as a reason for why frequenting downtown Fredericksburg businesses is not typical for her and her friends.
However, Fredericksburg Regional Transit (FRED) buses are free for UMW students. FRED buses have several stops on the UMW campus and run to downtown Fredericksburg.
When asked whether any other businesses were thinking of coming to downtown Fredericksburg, Hedelt said, “We are working on several prospects right now but cannot make any announcements.”