A ‘castle’ for weddings

Published 1:42 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Plans call for future event facility

          By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Plans for the Windsor Castle manor house and grounds were released by the Historic Windsor Castle Restoration, LLC on Dec. 28, along with an application to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for historic tax credits.   

The plans show a vision for an event center and bed-and-breakfast venue at the historic property, which was once owned by Smithfield founder Arthur Smith IV.

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The documents, which the newspaper had been told for over a year were unavailable by Smithfield Foods executives and town representatives, were paid for by Smithfield Foods. Early plan drafts were prepared by architect firm Frazier Associates as early as 2014. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Martha Russ, who recently retired from Smithfield Foods and is a current member of the foundation and the LLC, said that the plans were not released because nothing had been finalized or approved by DHR.

Members of the LLC have described even the DHR-approved plans as “fluid,” however, and subject to change depending on funding.

They include detailed studies outlining a large addition on the west end of the house to be used as a commercial kitchen, three dining rooms on the first floor, and a “bridal suite” on the second floor, among other additions.  

Aside from architectural drawings, The Smithfield Times also received a historic preservation application submitted to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and signed July 29 by Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stephenson. The applicant entity listed on the documents is Historic Windsor Castle Restoration, LLC.

The description of the plans on the application states that the goal of the overall project “is to continue to maintain the site in its agricultural configuration while rehabilitating the main house for small events and a bed-and-breakfast function.”

The manor house interior will also be rehabilitated to be used for “small functions such as dinners, cocktail parties, wine tastings, etc.,” according to the document. The second floor will retain three bedrooms “for use as a bed and breakfast associated with on-site events such as weddings.” One of the rooms is characterized as a bridal suite.

The estimated cost of the rehabilitation is listed at $8 million, according to the application. Smithfield Foods donated $1 million to the project, along with $300,000 in architectural fees, while the town pledged $2 million. Windsor Castle Park Foundation is currently in the midst of a $4 million fundraising campaign.

Regarding the early 20th century caretaker’s house across the road from the 1750s manor house, the plans submitted by Stephenson in July state that the house “will be preserved and rehabilitated and used for the on-site caretaker as well as offices for event staff.”

Last week Smithfield VA Events, a private corporation run by several town and county officials that applied for nonprofit status in September, announced it would enter into a partnership with the Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC, and fund the construction of two new barns previously in existence on the property, as well as the interior of the caretaker’s house across the road from the manor house.

In exchange for its financial contributions, the amount of which has not yet been finalized, Smithfield VA Events will use the barns for storage and the caretaker’s house as its central office.  

Smithfield Parks and Recreation and The Smithfield Center Director Amy Musick, who was consulted by Smithfield Foods in 2014 regarding the architectural study, is also a director for Smithfield VA Events. Musick said that any mention of “event staff” in the plans were a reference to her town event staff, not Smithfield VA Events.

Musick said, based on her experience, she believed the venue would draw large crowds and be profitable for the town in the future.

The application likewise states that the two new barns, or “sheds,” which are now slated to be paid for and used by Smithfield VA Events for storage, will be used to “store materials used for events to reduce the use of the historic outbuildings and the main house for this purpose.”

Smithfield VA Events currently has access to several rooms on the first floor of the manor house, which it uses to store materials used for its hugely popular events, according to Historic Windsor Castle Restoration Project Manager Rick Bodson.

“What SVAE doesn’t spend on off-site storage ultimately results in larger contributions to Windsor Castle Park and other local community organization,” Bodson said in an email.


Riddick: town will retain control

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

As the Historic Windsor Castle Restoration, LLC steps in to oversee the rehabilitation of the Windsor Castle manor house and outbuildings, the town will retain complete control over and continue to manage the public facilities, according to Smithfield Town Attorney Bill Riddick.

A long-term lease agreement is pending between the town and the LLC in order for the large restoration project to be eligible for historic tax credits from the state. Smithfield Foods, which donated $1 million to the rehabilitation project, would not have been able to receive the tax credits otherwise, as the public property is tax-exempt and therefore not eligible on its own for the credits if the town had performed the rehabilitation itself.

And, as Riddick stressed, it’s all about the historic tax credits, which, if awarded, are awarded by the state after a restoration project is completed. 

The lease, which was presented at a public hearing Nov. 1, has not yet been approved by the Smithfield Town Council. It states that the lease agreement between the town and the LLC could have a lifespan of 30 years.

Asked why it was 30 years, Riddick said, “Why not?”

Riddick said the 30-year term was not his call but was based on the advice of tax counsel, which recommended a 30-year timeframe for the lease.

It needed to be a long-term lease because the town is not transferring any ownership of the property to the LLC, according to Riddick.

“We paid a law firm a lot of money to structure this,” Riddick said. The law firm used was Pender and Coward.

Ultimately, however, the exact length was not much of an issue in the big picture, according to Riddick, as the town is maintaining control. 

“The management of the property reverts to the town,” said Riddick. “We’re not doing construction so that it will qualify for the tax credits. We’re retaining ownership and we’re retaining control.”

The Town Council held a public hearing on Nov. 1 in order to legally obtain the authority to enter into such a lease agreement with the LLC, due to the public nature of the park.

No one from the public spoke for or against the agreement at the hearing, and there was no discussion or mention of the proposed 30-year lease of the 42-acre historic easement on the land to the private entity.

The document with the proposed lease was readily available online in the Town Council’s agenda for the meeting, and The Smithfield Times staff failed to adequately notice or address it at the time it became available.

Ultimately, the council voted to table any action on the agreement with Historic Windsor Castle Restoration, LLC until the private entity could get its footing with its newly-appointed committee, which includes representatives of the Windsor Castle Park Foundation, Smithfield Foods and the town. Members of the committee for the LLC were appointed by Sue Ivy, a managing member of the LLC as well as president of Windsor Castle Park Foundation.

“This all just happened,” Riddick said. “It’s just structure, it’s form over substance.”

 Two weeks ago it was announced that Smithfield VA Events would enter into a partnership with the Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC, funding the construction of two new barns on the property, as well as restoration of the interior of the caretaker’s house, which had previously been pushed back to the final phase of the project due to a lack of funds — but is now in phase I.

In exchange for its donation, Smithfield VA Events said would retain office and storage space in the public facilities.

A private corporation that applied for nonprofit status in September, Smithfield VA Events is run by Town Council member Randy Pack and other town and county officials.

Both Pack and Council member Dr. Milton Cook said that the agreement between Smithfield VA Events and the LLC did not have to be approved by Town Council, due to the private nature of both entities.

However, according to the pending lease agreement and Riddick, it will.

“I think maybe everyone’s a little ahead of themselves,” said Riddick. “It appeared to me that everyone just thinks this is a good idea.”

Riddick referred to the possible agreement as “a proposal” from Smithfield VA Events.

“It’s not finalized by the town,” Riddick noted. “We really haven’t had time to work through any of the details, and the devil is always in the details.”

According to section 25 of the pending lease agreement that covers “assignment and subletting: “Tenant covenants that it will not assign this Lease, or sublet or permit any other person to occupy part or all of the Premises, without Landlord’s prior written consent.”

But again, this is all just happening, and people are still getting a feel for how this is all going to work, Riddick noted.

He also said it might be unfair to box-in non-lawyers (Town Council members) with questions pertaining to the details of a complicated process that is still so fresh.

“The lease is just a contractual obligation,” Riddick said.  “And why would we go to all this trouble?

“Tax credits.”


Windsor Castle Park timeline



May — Grand opening of park.

July — Foundation formed to be fundraising arm. Questions begin to arise on what to do with the manor house. Foundation suggests selling house or creating senior housing at Jericho Road and Cedar Street to raise money.

August — Town Council discusses issuing an RFP for manor house.

September — Tourism launches Encore Brides marketing campaign with Windsor Castle as a venue. William and Mary students conduct online survey about the park.


AprilWilliam and Mary survey receives fewer than 100 responses.

July  — Town issues RFP for sale or lease of manor house.


March — The Town Council, in closed session, discusses plans submitted by Denton and Michelle Weiss of Virginia Beach in response to town’s RFP for the manor house.

April — First wine and brew fest held at manor house.

September — The Town Council approves sale of North Church Street building to the Weisses for a winery.

December — Plans for natural playground begin, public meetings held concerning recreational activities.


January — BOB Fest added, organizers now called Smithfield VA Events.

February — Town discusses what to do with caretaker’s house.

March — Town leases land to Weisses for vineyards in front of manor house through February 2018.

June — Town issues RFP to shore-up outbuildings at manor house area.

November – The Virginia Department of Historic Resources criticizes town for lack of vision and action on manor house.

December – Town has a closed session on ‘real property,’ but town officials decline to comment. Council member Milton Cook said once an offer is made, the town wants to have a public hearing. Plans for playground and other amenities, such as disc golf, are put on hold.

Public information session held for park amenities.


January — Town Council discusses vision for park. Park founder Joseph W. Luter Jr. asks town not to change passive nature of park.

February — Town abruptly cancels Weisses’ RFP for manor house. Smithfield Foods indicates it wants to help preserve the house.

The Town Council adopts its mission statement for all town parks: “It is the mission of the town of Smithfield to preserve and protect the natural beauty and ambience of the town’s parks and green spaces while balancing passive and active opportunities and keeping the parks accessible to residents and visitors alike.”

March — A petition is circulated by residents to keep park passive, to allow for playground but no new buildings or facilities.

April — Town Council votes to add playground, restrooms and additional parking.

June — Smithfield VA Events incorporates with State Corporation Commission.

Plans for manor house and surrounding buildings initiated with Frazier and Associates and paid for by Smithfield Foods.

September — Foundation begins fundraising drive for playground and preservation of the manor house, outbuildings.

Bacon, Bourbon and Beach Fest added by Smithfield VA Events


March — Smithfield Winery wants to expand vineyard and lease additional land as a buffer. Mayor Carter Williams lets slip that the town is planning to build out toward the vineyards during the discussion, but provides no details.

August — Outbuildings shored up, town does some maintenance work on house.

November — Town and Foods announce its plans with $2 million from taxpayer money and $1 million from Foods to renovate manor house and outbuildings.

December — Town announces plans to utilize historic tax credits.


May – Attorney William Riddick files Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC with State Corporation Commission.

June — Town completes paperwork for historic tax credits using LLC.

August — DHR received town’s tax credit application/town starts moisture removal process for manor house

November — Playscape opens, public hearing on LLC and tax credits held.

December — Town Council announces it will rehabilitate exterior of caretaker’s house and turn over interior to be refurbished by Smithfield VA Events for offices. Smithfield VA Events also proposes building two storage sheds. The Smithfield Times had been told that no plans for the manor house could be shown, but later learned the project plans began in 2014. After numerous requests over the past year, The Smithfield Times obtained the plans.  {/mprestriction}