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Proposed facilities at the Oceanfront could bring more tourism to Virginia Beach during its shoulder season in the winter, according to three proposals city council heard Tuesday night.
The proposals included relocating the Virginia Sports Hall of fame, a 175,000-square-foot indoor sports facility and an event center that could hold 3,600 people.
Councilman John Moss said the public should be able to weigh in on these options to formulate the city’s funding priorities
Whichever direction the city decides to go in, Mayor Will Sessoms said parking for the facilities is a top priority.
“It’s time for us to get our plan together on where we’re going to put the parking,” Sessoms said. “Before you know it, we’re going to have these projects underway, and if we don’t have a parking plan to support these projects, then shame on us.”
City Manager Dave Hansen said there is no action to be taken at this time.
“We’ve got considerable conversation that needs to continue to take place over the next two months, so we have an opportunity to understand how financing might be generated and where these facilities might be located.” Hansen said.
These proposals could appear before city council again by late January at the earliest depending on how those conversations go.
If any of the concepts are approved, it could take a year to design them and construction could be budgeted for in the city’s 2020 fiscal year, according to Hansen.
Virginia Sports Hall of Fame relocation
When the Hall of Fame opened its doors in Portsmouth in 2005, the city pledged to give it $500,000 to operate every year. Over the years, it’s depleted to $100,000, and now the museum is only open three days a week, according to Joel Rubin, the Chairman of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame board.
In addition to budget cuts, Rubin says Elizabeth River Tunnel tolls are a contributing factor to visitation depression. This resulted in job cuts and a small marketing budget, Rubin said.
This alarmed councilmember Shannon Kane who said she saw a red flag during the presentation.
“If the sports museum can’t make it in Portsmouth … what’s making it so confident that that it will do so well in Virginia Beach if the children’s museum in Portsmouth is thriving and doing well?”
Rubin responded by saying Virginia Beach has millions of visitors a year and that Portsmouth doesn’t have that. “You just don’t have everyone walking down the street like you have around here,” he said,
The VSHF faces a few challenges to continue operating in Hampton Roads. To keep a $1.5 million endowment, VSHF would have to sell its facility, which has a $3 million mortgage held by TowneBank. Rubin said he estimates the building could sell for $3 million.
Rubin said the state is stepping up by giving VSHF a $750,000 biennial budget for the museum to transition to another location.
“Our board has decided we need to be more sustainable, which is why we need to get out of our building and become a much smaller footprint” Rubin said. “[General Assembly] has told us we need to provide them a sustainability plan by the end of this year … they want to know what we’re going to do before they release those funds.”
Virginia Beach needs to commit to host the VSHF before the end of the year to satisfy the General Assembly
Rubin said it won’t find that sustainable area in Portsmouth and that’s why it’s looking to Virginia Beach.
“We have got to move on from our Portsmouth situation,” said Rubin. “The best fit is [Virginia Beach] because of its sports marketing department … this is one more good thing that adds to that mix and you become Virginia’s Hall of Fame city.”
An indoor sports facility
A recent sports marketing study could give the Virginia Beach Oceanfront a new, city-operated indoor facility. Its projection estimates a boon in Virginia Beach tourism during the winter season.
The cost estimate is $24.5 million.
“We’re at capacity,” said Brad Van Dommelen, director of the Virginia Beach convention and visitors bureau. “We’re losing business today without the facilities that would enable us to attract new business.”
The proposed 175,000-square-foot indoor sports facility at the Oceanfront would feature 10 basketball courts, 12 convertible volleyball courts, an indoor artificial turf field, team rooms, offices and concessions.
The study estimates 189,150 annual visits, with a peak during the winter.
“There’s an inverse relationship between the seasonality of participatory sports and the seasonality of our tourism market,” Van Dommelen said. “It really demonstrates our ability to enhance the time of the year where we need business.”
There has been about a 50 percent increase in sports events held in the city in 2013, with an all time high of 94 in 2015. A new sports facility could bring that number to 113 next year, about a 30 percent increase from last year, according to the sports market study.
These numbers are estimates based on Virginia Beach’s location in comparison to large population markets and demographics, which include a younger median age, higher percentage of children in households, higher household income and large corporate base.
“When rights holders are looking for a venue to hold an event they want to make sure that there are markets they can draw from,” Van Dommelen said. “Virginia Beach sits at a great proximity with six hour drive distances to 11 different market areas with populations with over 500,000 people.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said the city should look to other locations as a host for the facility.
“I think you can put a field house in a lot of places,” Wilson said. “I think we need a field house, it would be really great, but I’d like to know where else we could put it besides the [Oceanfront].”
Now, the city controls three of nine venues in the city, which contributes to an “unusually high level of participatory sports” at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, according to the study. This new facility could host overnight or multi-day sports events.
“We want to return our convention center to what it was designed for, meetings and for conventions,” Van Dommelen said. “It’s the most efficient type of business in that building to generate the most revenue.”
Kane said she saw a red flag with the city in control of the facility.
“We really don’t have a great track record in managing our sports facilities,” Kane said, “Golf, Sportsplex, tennis, field hockey – we’ve outsourced all that to private vendors. Again, what’s to make us think it’s going to be different this time?”
The Virginia Beach Event Center
A proposed event center is looking at the Oceanfront’s dome site, which is now a parking lot.
It could fit 3,600 people in it and host events from concerts, comedy shows, MMA fights and trade shows, according to a presentation by Ken Macdonald, president of entertainment company IMGoing and executive producer of Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival.
“Every study we see about millennials is they look at music events, community events and we’re uniquely positioned to bring more of those events to Virginia Beach,” MacDonald said
MacDonald compared the potential event center’s design and functionality to The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa. It would be about 50,000 square feet, need a parking lot for 1,300 vehicles and could cost $20 million to build.
The dome site is where the Alan B. Shepard Civic Center used to stand. MacDonald noted the history of the area, where performers like Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac once played to a Virginia Beach crowd.
“Virginia Beach was a touring destination for nationally known acts,” MacDonald said. “A lot of that live music, other than what’s happening at Virginia Beach Amphitheater, has moved away. It’s still out there.”