Consultant unveils ‘bold’ arts plan to guide Virginia Beach, make it more South Beach

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Virginia Beach could look a lot more like Miami Beach if the man behind the city’s new arts plan has his way.

The consultant, Duncan Webb of Webb Management Services, suggests Virginia Beach focus its creative side over the next 15 years on fueling public art, establishing distinctive cultural districts and enhancing the Oceanfront as an artistic destination, among other initiatives. The recommendations are part of a nine-point plan for 2030 that Webb crafted using hundreds of suggestions from meetings, interviews, events and surveys of the public. The city paid his three-person team $44,400 for the work.

The ViBe creative district is one of the thriving arts areas already in Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of 2030 Arts Plan)
The ViBe creative district is one of the thriving arts areas already in Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of 2030 Arts Plan)

Webb showed the results Tuesday to the City Council and on Wednesday at the Sandler Center. In those talks, he described the goals as part of a “bold” plan that incorporates ideas from other resort communities.

“I love the Oceanfront. It’s this tremendous asset for Virginia Beach,” Webb said at his presentation Wednesday. “It’s already very active, with lots of programming going on. We’re suggesting the opportunity exists to simply up that programming in terms of the level, quality, to make it more of a cultural destination. So we’re gonna be bold about it. We’re gonna say, ‘Think Miami Beach.'”

Councilwoman Shannon Kane said Tuesday that the Oceanfront already has a lot of art and cultural events. She asked Webb what he thought the city should do differently.

“Bigger and more,” he replied.

One of the highest priorities is to expand the Sandler Center to incorporate more space for education and to expand on the food and beverage opportunities there, Webb said.

“The original concept of the Sandler Center was a bigger building than what’s here today,” he said at his Wednesday presentation.

Webb said he and staff members from the city’s Cultural Affairs Office were meeting later that day with the Sandler Center foundation to discuss the possibilities.

Not everyone warmed to the ideas.

“I know it takes money to do things — you said you’re not asking for money — but this document asks for a dedicated funding stream on every fourth page,” Councilman John Moss said Tuesday.

The word “tax” and variations of it appear 25 times in the 68-page document.

Deputy City Manager Doug Smith said the plan does not force any action by the city but rather is something the council can use as a guide. Councilwoman Amelia Ross-Hammond said she saw it as a “road map” that could improve the city.

Webb suggested a portion of the real estate tax could go toward funding public art projects. Many ideas in the plan might also be funded by private donations or public-private partnerships, such as the one the council approved Tuesday in support of the American Dream Theater in Town Center’s Block 9 development, he said.

Emily Labows, the city’s director of cultural affairs, said Wednesday that Webb’s work was Virginia Beach’s first strategic plan for the arts. The process to develop the goals began in August 2014 with the gathering of community input. The City Council is scheduled to vote Dec. 8 on adopting the plan.

“This is just a start of the conversation,” Labows said later, adding the city has to further prioritize the recommendations.

“And then we’ll get going,” she said.

Here are the plan’s goals, including the priority it placed on the sub-goals:

1. Expand public art programming:

  • Public art and place-making (high).

2. Strengthen the arts community:

  • Modify city policy and practices to support cultural development (high).
  • Shared resources (medium).

3. Encourage culturally relevant programming:

  •  Multi-cultural programming and facilities (high).

4. Strengthen and establish different and distinctive cultural districts:

  • Advance ViBe as a cultural and creative district (high).
  • Establish Town Center arts and entertainment district (medium).

5. Support smaller-scale performance and arts education:

  • Develop small-scale Cultural space at Town Center (medium).
  • Develop digital media facilities (low).
  • Develop facilities for emerging artists (medium).

6. Improve the value, impact and sustainability of the Sandler Center:

  • Expand the Sandler Center (medium).

7. Promote Virginia Beach as a cultural and creative community:

  • Position the Oceanfront as a cultural destination (medium).
  • Promote identity as cultural community (medium).

8. Expand arts infrastructure

9. Increase state, city and private sector funding for arts development