Leesburg Leaders Assess Pokémon Impacts

For decades, Leesburg merchants have debated ways to get more foot traffic in the downtown historic district. Suddenly, this month, the sidewalks are bustling again.

It isn’t the town’s $5 million streetscape upgrade that is drawing crowds (King Street’s outside dining tables remain mostly empty most days). Instead, the credit goes to an uber-popular free smartphone app—Pokémon Go.

It started two weeks ago with a parade of pale millennials staring expressionless at their phone screens pacing back and forth along the downtown streets. Soon, older residents joined the virtual hunt and the craze has continued to build.

Pokémon trainers gather after dark at Georgetown Park. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Pokémon trainers gather after dark at Georgetown Park. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The increase in foot traffic hasn’t been without problems. For example, the town’s Georgetown Park on South King Street is a popular gathering spot—apparently one with a lot of Pokémon sightings. The park also became a popular nighttime hunting spot, with crowds of 100 or more convening at 2 or 3 in the morning to play the game together, some even offering snack sales and phone re-charging stations.

The problem is the town’s parks close at dark and last week the Leesburg Police Department began enforcing that rule.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of trespassing in our public parks. As a result of the number of people congregating, there have been parking complaints as well, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Grigsby said. “As a town we’re discussing strategies that could work for both the Pokémon gaming community and town staff. From a law enforcement perspective, we just want to remind the community of trespassing laws, especially on private property—and gamers should pay attention and know their surroundings at all times, so they lessen their chances of becoming victimized.”

A sign from the Leesburg Department of Parks and Recreation declares Georgetown Park a “Pokémon Go friendly park.” (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
A sign from the Leesburg Department of Parks and Recreation declares Georgetown Park a “Pokémon Go friendly park.” (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The town staff met this week to explore ways to accommodate the gamers—perhaps even encourage them—while also looking out for public safety and limiting disturbances. One result was an agreement to allow the gamers in the Ida Lee Park, Georgetown Park, and Raflo Park for extended hours—from dawn until 10 p.m. They also urged hunters to be careful crossing streets, pick up litter, be courteous of others, and to avoid suspicious locations, especially at night.

The Leesburg Department of Parks and Recreation has put up a sign declaring the park a “Pokémon Go friendly park.”

RJ Jacobs plays at the park frequently.

“It’s not even the people in the park that are causing the problem,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been here a lot of nights when the cops showed up. It’s the people driving up and down the street.”

Jacobs said the police are allowing aspiring Pokémon trainers to stand on the sidewalk by the park and play as long as they’re not in the way—a conversation that was cut short when another player wandered by to ask, “Are you guys only catching Rattatas and Pidgeys?”

Meanwhile, merchants are working to capitalize on the craze. The Village at Leesburg on Saturday offered a Village Pokémap to attract gamers to the center and 15 businesses offered special deals during the event.

Reporter Renss Greene contributed to this report.

From left, RJ Jacobs, Gui Gomes, and Alini Correia catch Pokémon at Georgetown Park on Tuesday afternoon. Gomes and Correia, who came together, had never met Jacobs before. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
From left, RJ Jacobs, Gui Gomes, and Alini Correia catch Pokémon at Georgetown Park on Tuesday afternoon. Gomes and Correia, who came together, had never met Jacobs before. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

3 thoughts on “Leesburg Leaders Assess Pokémon Impacts

  • 2016-07-31 at 1:54 pm
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    The businesses can sign on the have a Pokemon at their location. Should sign up as many as they can. This just shows that for years and years there has been limited worth for people to visit Down Town. Not because of parking, not because business closed early, not because of sidewalks etc. People will go where they see a value. Now a game has them going where they otherwise would not be going. It is up to the businesses to be smart and tap into the latest fad.

  • 2016-07-27 at 11:09 am
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    “parade of pale millennials staring expressionless at their phone screens” Really? That’s what you saw? I’ve seen a lot of young professionals still in their work clothes from their internships and jobs in downtown Leesburg. I guess maybe they’re pale from working inside? I saw groups of adults meeting new adults, all while grabbing lunch at Puccios, South Street Under, and Jasmine’s. Businesses have seen new shoppers from the hard to capture millennial segment. I see a lot of positive potential from this trend- the question is how to harness it into revitalization.

  • 2016-07-27 at 10:28 am
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    I saw at least 75 of these Pokemon fans at the town branch park last night. I had never seen so many folks gathered on a weeknight in downtown Leesburg in years. It is pretty cool and yes, that does more for bringing folks downtown than wider brick sidewalks. I posted some photos on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/KenReidLeesburg/?fref=nf

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