Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to undergo outsourcing, layoffs amid financial troubles

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will be undergoing layoffs and outsourcing of four departments amid financial troubles, Colonial Williamsburg president Mitchell Reiss announced Thursday in an open letter.

The letter, which was posted to the Making History website, chronicles financial troubles for the foundation dating back several years. In one example, Reiss said the foundation lost $62 million in 2014 — equating to a loss of $175,000 everyday.

The foundation’s golf operations, retail stores, much of the maintenance and facilities and commercial real estate management will now be outsourced.

Reiss said the foundation has asked vendors to keep employees in those four areas for at least one year. However, 71 employees will be asked to leave.

More than 260 employees in those four departments will have the opportunity to work under new vendors for at least a year or they can decide to leave. Regardless of their decisions, these employees will receive a severance pay.

As difficult as these decisions are, for as much as they impact our Colonial Williamsburg colleagues today, it would be far worse for the large majority of our employees and the future of the Foundation if we did nothing and just hoped that our financial fortunes would somehow change next year, or the year after.”

Outsourcing and layoffs are two of the cost-saving measures Reiss revealed in Thursday’s letter. Reiss said the Kimball Theatre will be closed down July 6.

The theater lost $782,000 over the past year, according to Reiss.

The financial burden on the foundation reached more than $300 million in debt by the end of 2016, according to Reiss.

The foundation borrowed money to improve facilities leading up to Jamestown’s 400th anniversary in 2007. Reiss said the foundation did not see “adequate financial returns” from this borrowing.

He cited changes over the last decade — including the way history is taught in schools — as factors that have impacted historical sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.

Community members comment on future of Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is attracting half the visitors it did in the late-1980’s, according to data Reiss made available Thursday.

Programs and events aimed at cutting costs and bringing in revenue helped with more than $10.4 million in financial improvements over the last two years. In fact, Reiss noted that the foundation lost less money per day — $148,000 — in 2016.

Reiss said in the letter those measures were not enough.

The plan unfurled Thursday by Reiss has a goal of reaching financial stability by 2019.

“We need to refocus all of our efforts on the core educational mission, the historic area, teachers, and the museums. That’s what today allows us to do,” Reiss said.

Reiss said the lay offs cast a shadow over the historic area but he’s hopeful that what they’re doing now will make the future brighter.

“We believe we have a central role and indeed the hopes for this restructuring, we will begin to play a lead role in citizenship and civic responsibility going forward,” he said.