A dozen days before 2007, organizers are hitting more milestones in preparing for Jamestown's 400th anniversary.
A $7.4 million visitor center was unveiled Tuesday at Historic Jamestowne, the site of the New World's first permanent English settlement. The center's features include new exhibits, a circular theater that shows a 15-minute movie, and a 500-foot-long bridge that takes visitors deeper into the historic site.
Meanwhile, a $12.5 million land deal that provides a setting for the Jamestown 2007 commemoration's main event is expected to close today. To celebrate this purchase of 202 acres, James City County and the Trust for Public Land -- a national conservation group that helped broker the deal -- put up 400 red bows Tuesday along Jamestown Road.
The visitor center and land purchase make up just a small fraction of the public and private investment in Virginia's Historic Triangle spurred by Jamestown 2007. Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance officials have estimated the total investment is about $500 million, which includes money for road projects, major events and extensive improvements at hotels and tourist attractions.
Overall, Jamestown 2007 is 18 months of statewide events aimed at boosting tourism, teaching people about the settlement and marking the 400th anniversary of English colonists' arrival in 1607. While it's not yet 2007, the commemoration is already a third over. The hoopla started in late May with the Godspeed replica ship's promotional tour up the East Coast.
At Historic Jamestowne on Tuesday, officials said the new visitor center will serve as the starting point for each guest's tour, with the end point being a new archaeology museum. That $4.9 million museum, dubbed the "Archaearium," opened in May.
"This sort of completes the visitor experience here," said Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director for APVA Preservation Virginia, which runs Historic Jamestowne in partnership with the National Park Service.
The visitor center will open to the general public on Jan. 2. Reporters, photographers and a few local of-ficials got a sneak peek Tuesday at the 18,000-square-foot facility. The center's circular theater has 160 seats and shows a new movie called "Jamestown: America's Birth-place." The movie focuses on the three peoples that collided at Jamestown: Africans, Europeans and Vir-ginia Indians. Near the end of the film, visitors are invited to "Walk the very ground they walked. Put yourself in their place."
Next to the theater are exhibits about the three cultures, including displays on tobacco, weapons and slavery. Other highlights are a giant map about "The Atlantic World in 1607" and a timeline stretching from 2007 back 15,000 years. The visitor center also has several classrooms. Guests exit onto the 500-foot- long bridge.
"We think one of the most successful things here is the way the bridge reveals the site to you," architect Carlton Abbott said. The bridge runs about 9 feet above the surrounding swampland. It ends near Historic Jamestowne's 1907 monument and the site of the settlement's original fort.
Sandy Rives, the National Park Service's project director for Jamestown 2007, said the new visitor center will help Historic Jamestowne deal with "what we know will be tremendous increased visitation in 2007 and beyond."
He bragged that attendance already rose at the site this year, thanks to the Archaearium and the God-speed tour. Through November, there have been 297,812 visitors, a jump of 11 percent compared with the same period last year.
Along Jamestown Road, the 400 red bows are expected to stay up until midday Thursday. They are cur-rently the most visible sign of the nearby 202-acre parcel's future as Anniversary Park, where much of Jamestown 2007's main event will unfold May 11-13.
Any construction crews seen to date on the land, which contains campsites and is next to the state-run Jamestown Settlement museum, probably have had to do with building the nearby Capital Trail for bikers and walkers, said Stephanie Ahrendt, purchasing director for James City County, which is slated to become the parcel's owner today.
Ahrendt said the county met last week with producers of "America's Anniversary Weekend" and got a preliminary list of needs for utilities, layout and other matters. A spokesman for the main state agency or-ganizing events said the temporary stages, exhibits and other components of Anniversary Park likely will go up less than a month in advance.
About two dozen people -- mostly from the county government, the Trust for Public Land and Lafayette High School students -- hung the bows on a two-mile stretch of Jamestown Road, between Ironbound Road and Jamestown Settlement.
The workers also put up signs that said, "A Gift to America." *
HISTORIC JAMESTOWNE'S VISITOR CENTER
When will it opens to the public? The center opens to the public Jan.2.
What did it cost? The center cost $7.4 million in federal money.
What's the ticket price? Admission is $10, which includes access to Yorktown Battlefield
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