Forum on Virginia Beach arena draws concerns on Veterans’ memorial, parking

Tammie Mullins-Rice, right, is one of many Virginia Beach residents who told developers and city officials Thursday that events at the proposed Oceanfront arena could stymie access to homes. (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH – A public hearing Thursday on the proposed $200 million Oceanfront arena drew a couple of hundred residents and two recurring questions:

What will happen to the nearby Tidewater Veterans Memorial when private developers build the 18,000-seat arena near the Convention Center on 19th Street?

And if the City Council approves the project — as it appears ready to do — will there be enough parking, and how does the city plan to cope with traffic at events that are expected to regularly draw 8,000 or more people?

Related: City reveals deal with developers to build private arena capable of housing NHL-team by 2018.

Andrea Kilmer, president of United States Management LLC, the arena developers, said her company partially funded the veterans memorial when it was built in the 1980s and has budgeted more than $500,000 to improve it when it builds the arena.

“It will be enhanced and renovated, but the original design will stay intact and all smaller memorials at the site will be incorporated,” she said.

Many veterans and those associated with them expressed concern that building at arena at 19th Street could jeopardize the Tidewater Veterans Memorial Park. Developers said the project would have only positive effects.  (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

Deputy City Manager Doug Smith detailed a parking plan that had not been discussed previously. He said when construction is complete, the arena and Convention Center will share at least 2,700 parking spaces on-site — possibly 3,000 — and that those will accommodate most events. There are another 6,600 spaces “within reasonable proximity” between there and 31st Street, he said.

Tammie Mullins-Rice, a resident who lives on Barnacle Court, said there might be lots of parking spaces there, but visitors will still park in front of her home and block her in whenever there are events at the Oceanfront. She was concerned the additional load of vehicles at an arena will make her street frequently unnavigable.

“We can’t get out, we can’t get our mail, they’re in front of our mailbox,” she said to applause. “If you don’t have a plan, I’m not for it.”

Police Chief Jim Cervera said the city’s officers are “pros” at moving traffic and do so for more than 100,000 cars every July 4.

Smith told Mullins-Rice to talk to someone from the city after the event to see how they could address her concerns. Before leaving, she chatted with Cervera.

Mayor Will Sessoms had previously said it took the city two years to iron out the deal under which USM will build, operate and own the arena, and that the agreement could not be tweaked before the council votes on it. He said the forum was a chance for citizens to express their concerns before that vote, which is scheduled to happen Dec. 8 immediately after another hearing.

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