Neptune Festival-goers: light rail, yes; arena, not so much

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A Tide light rail train at the Newtown Road Station on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

A Tide light rail train at the Newtown Road Station on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

Virginia Beach City Council will take up two contested issues Tuesday: the proposed $200 million Oceanfront arena and a proposal to extend the Tide light rail from Norfolk to Virginia Beach.

An informal sampling of attendees at the Neptune Festival at the Oceanfront Friday yielded an array of views about the proposals, pro, con and nonexistent. Several residents had not heard about either project. Others expressed mixed opinions about both. But among those interviewed, the arena was a tougher sale than the light rail.

For Mel Sepmoree of Windsor, it’s a matter of priorities.

“The light rail is necessary,” she said. “The arena is unnecessary.” 

If there were better public transportation, she’d come to more public events, she added.

“It’s just easier for more folks,” she said. “You’re not going to drink and spend money and then want to fight traffic.”

The proposed Oceanfront arena has a projected cost of roughly $200 million. According to a proposal presented to council last Tuesday, bonds to finance the undertaking will be sold as unrated instruments and the developer, United States Management LLC, will increase its equity contribution by $7.5 million, to offset the risk of proceeding with unrated bonds. 

The proposed light-rail extension, which will be the subject of a nonbinding referendum when Virginia Beach residents head to the polls on Nov. 8, also comes with a high price tag. The roughly three-mile extension would run from Newtown Road to Town Center. The state has said it will commit $155 million to the project. An estimate from September 2015 suggested the overall cost could be as high as $310 million.

A different Virginia Beach resident, Rebekah Hall, said she didn’t know too much about either project, but was skeptical about congested freeways.

If there were a light rail extension, it might offset traffic caused by the arena, she reasoned.

“The idea of more public transit that could get people places is a good thing,” Hall said.

Another resident echoed her views.

“You gotta start somewhere,” said Jim Sepmoree. If the light rail moves to Virginia Beach, it might go further, he added.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Virginia Beach resident Karen Woodard. Her husband vehemently opposes the light rail, she said; his reasoning is that technology from smart cars may make the light rail obsolete soon.

But she might support the arena, she added.

“Anything that brings business to the beach is a good thing,” she said.

But as far as public transit, she’d rather see a train from Virginia Beach to Washington, D.C.

“Now, that I would use!” Woodard said.

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