News in 5: Williamsburg named among ’15 Best Cities in the United States’

Williamsburg is one of the best cities in the United States, according to Travel + Leisure magazine. Plus: Abby Zwerner, who was shot by a 6-year-old student in the classroom, is filing suit against Newport News Public Schools, and a marketing campaign gave the Historic Triangle an $800 million boost in visitor spending last year.

Here are the week’s top stories. Note: This newsletter was originally published on Wednesday, Jan. 25. It was edited on Sunday, Jan. 29 to reflect updates regarding the Richneck school shooting case.

1. Williamsburg was named among the ’15 Best Cities in the United States’ by Travel + Leisure.

  • Williamsburg is among two cities in Virginia to make Travel + Leisure (T+L) magazine’s coveted 15 Best Cities in the United States list. The selections were made based on input from readers, according to the magazine’s editors. 
  • Williamsburg was selected for its rich history and close proximity to other unique destinations, like Jamestown Settlement and several Civil War sites. “Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful attraction,” one reader said.
  • The other Virginia city to make the list was Alexandria, which received the nod for being located near D.C. and having good food, interesting shopping and walking trails along the Potomac.
  • Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more,” the publication explained. “Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.”
  • Alexandria came in at the No. 8 spot, while Williamsburg took No. 12. Williamsburg is one of the only small towns to make the list and was named among major cities like Boston, New York City, New Orleans, Chicago and Honolulu. Charleston, South Carolina was chosen for the No. 1 spot.
  • Founded in 1971, Travel + Leisure has a total reach of 16 million people, according to its website.
Williamsburg was named one of Travel + Leisure‘s “15 Best Cities in the United States.” (Photo by The Triangle)

2. Abby Zwerner has been released from the hospital after being shot by her 6-year-old student – and her attorney spoke for the first time Wednesday.

  • Abby Zwerner, the first-grade teacher who was critically wounded after being shot by a 6-year-old in her classroom on Jan. 6, was finally released from the hospital last Thursday. Officials from Riverside Regional Medical Center said in a statement that Zwerner is continuing to recover as an outpatient “with the support of family, friends and health professionals.” 
    • GoFundMe page set up for Zwerner has raised more than $248,000. 
  • Zwerner has hired Virginia trial lawyer Diane Toscano to represent her. Toscano held a news conference Wednesday morning, during which she announced that Zwerner intends to file suit against Newport News Public Schools. She alleged that the school system was negligent in addressing Zwerner’s concerns about the 6-year-old student, ignoring repeated complaints made by multiple school employees before the shooting.
  • The administration could not be bothered… they failed to act and Abby was shot,” Toscano said.
  • The Newport News School Board also voted to fire the district’s superintendent, George Parker III. The decision was made during a special meeting held on Wednesday evening, hours after Toscano’s public statement.
  • Richneck Elementary School has been closed since the shooting took place earlier this month. Students will return to class on Jan. 30, a Newport News Public Schools spokesperson said.
  • Last week, the family of the boy accused of shooting Zwerner spoke out for the first time. In a public statement released through a spokesperson, the family said the pistol had been legally purchased by the boy’s mother and was secured in the home. They added that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”
    • The family stated that their son “suffers from an acute disability” and was under a care plan which involved one of his parents attending school with him daily. The week of the shooting, they said, was the first week they were not in class with him. 
  • Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school,” the family said in the statement. “She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son.”
  • Newly elected Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones told VA Peninsula Media that he cannot comment on the shooting at Richneck, but added that the tragedy has led to an outpouring of support for teachers and staff at Richneck. “I really saw Newport News come together on this,” he said. 
Diane Toscano, an attorney hired by Abby Zwerner, held a press conference to announce that Zwerner is filing suit against Newport News Public Schools. The school system, she alleges, were repeatedly warned that a 6-year-old student had brought a gun to school, but they failed to act to protect Zwerner, her students and other school staff.

3. A major marketing campaign led to more than $800 million in visitor spending in the Historic Triangle in 2022.

  • An advertising initiative launched to bring more tourism to the Williamsburg area last year generated nearly $832 million in trip spending, the Virginia Gazette reports.
  • According to a presentation given during Williamsburg Tourism Council’s January meeting, the Williamsburg Tourism Council spent $11.5 million on ads between January and October of 2021. That investment helped generate more than 430,000 trips to the Williamsburg area and brought in an average of $73 in visitor spending for each $1 spent on advertising.
  • Visit Williamsburg promoted travel to the Historic Triangle through a series of ads that appeared on television, social media and various websites. The efforts, which were boosted by American Rescue Plan Funding, reached a total of 10 million people last year. A significant percentage of the funds was used to market the area in Boston, Massachusetts, which is also rich in colonial history.
    • Victoria Cimino, Visit Williamsburg’s chief executive officer, emphasized that the $830 million in visitor spending “would not exist if Visit Williamsburg did not exist.”

4. Newport News received a major grant to expand its Seafood Industrial Park.

  • The City of Newport News has been awarded a $640,994 grant from the U.S Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to support the establishment of a seafood market. The grant will also make it possible for the city to make improvements to its dock and dredging design. “Dredging” refers to a commercial fishing method that increases the catch rate of various species of shellfish.
  • We are grateful that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration is investing in this important part of Newport News and supporting our thriving seafood industry,” said Newport News Mayor Phillip D. Jones. “This grant contributes greatly to our efforts to make critical improvements to the park that enhance its viability and competitiveness in the market. It also lays the foundation for future growth, including a seafood market that will make the products landed at SIP more accessible to the community, while also supporting food entrepreneurship opportunities.”
  • Seafood Industrial Park (SIP) is made up of prime waterfront property that consists of 39 acres in the Southeast Community of Newport News, including navigable water. Owned by the city, it’s one of the largest seafood harbors in the nation and is considered to be a major component of the city’s economy. In the past ten years, SIP has routinely averaged among the top ten markets in the nation for the value of the seafood landed, according to the city.

5. Virginia Aquarium is planning a major expansion.

  • If you haven’t been to the Virginia Aquarium in a while, you’ll soon have even more reasons to visit. The popular attraction, located at Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront, is planning a $250 million expansion
    • The expansion will create new exhibit space and allow the center to bring in new animals, according to WAVY News
  • The aquarium, once called the Virginia Marine Science Museum, initially started out in 1986 as a small attraction. But after numerous renovations, it has grown to become the third most ticketed attraction in Virginia, falling behind only Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion.
  • Aquarium President and CEO Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis said the investment is necessary because the current exhibits are starting to show signs of wear and tear. The planned expansion will include a new seal tank, shark tank and turtle habitat.
    • If the aquarium fails to act soon, Spanoulis says, the existing wildlife population there could be lost.
    • “Unlike other museums that don’t have [a] live animal collection, we can’t just drain those tanks to make those repairs or replacements,” Spanoulis told The Virginian-Pilot. “We need a space to move these animals while we create and refresh their existing habitats.”
  • The entire project could take up to ten years to complete, and the aquarium has asked the City of Virginia Beach to assist by investing $3.7 million into the project.
The Virginia Aquarium is planning a $250 million expansion.

In the National News

  • Your tax refund might be smaller this year: Many Americans will see smaller tax refunds this year now that several crucial pandemic-era tax breaks have ended, Axios reports. The IRS has warned that the enhanced child tax credit has ended, so parents who received $3,600 per child last year will now only get $2,000. Additionally, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which helps working parents pay for childcare, will shrink to a maximum of $2,100, down from $8,000. Finally, the Earned Income Tax Credit will be lower than it was last year for taxpayers without children. 
  • An earthquake shook L.A early Wednesday morning: A 4.2 magnitude earthquake hit Southern California early Wednesday morning around 2:00 am, jolting many local residents out of their sleep, USA Today reports. The earthquake was followed by a 3.5 magnitude aftershock minutes later. No damage or injuries were immediately reported.
  • Californians are reeling after multiple mass shootings: Two mass shootings in three days have led to the death of 18 people and injured 10 more. On Monday, five men and two women were killed and another was injured in the Northern California town of Half Moon Bay. The attack happened just days after a gunman opened fire at a dance studio in Monterey Park on Saturday, leaving 11 dead and nine injured, NPR reports. The shootings bare striking similarities in that both suspects were men of Asian descent over the age of 60.

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