Plans emerge for new development at Town Center; project to include ‘focal point’ staircase, theater, restaurant

This image, edited from a slide show shown the City Council in closed session, shows were the proposed developments are in relation to the rest of Town Center.
This image, taken from a slide show shown to the City Council in closed session and edited to highlight the block in question, shows were the proposed developments are in Town Center.

VIRGINIA BEACH –  City Council members said in closed session Tuesday they like a plan to build a 300-plus-seat live performance theater and other amenities on one of Town Center’s last undeveloped blocks, according to Councilman Ben Davenport.

Davenport said Thursday that blueprints for what’s known as Block 9 call for a “huge” staircase – possibly 30 feet wide – leading from ground-floor retail space to the upper levels. Those upper floors, he said, will include more than 100 apartments, a dome-shaped theater, an unnamed restaurant with “large outdoor seating” and more.

The staircase will serve as a focal point and be a place folks can “sit and people-watch,” while the theater could be home to a live troupe and host musicals, plays and other events, he said.

The block in question is currently a surface parking lot. It is bordered on three sides by The Westin, the Fountain Plaza at Town Center, and a block of apartments with first-floor retail, including the Daily Grind coffee shop.

“And it will all face toward the fountain area,” Davenport said of Block 9’s planned main features.

The proposed shops and theater, which would be built under a public-private partnership with Armada Hoffler Properties, will stand several stories high and connect via a skybridge to a neighboring block, said Davenport and Councilman John Moss. Moss said that skyway would go to a parking garage and that no additional parking is planned.

The council has not heard all details of the plan, including when ground could break or when the project, called Town Center Phase VI,  could go to a vote, Davenport said.

“But they were talking like it could be soon,” he said.

The council is scheduled to hear more about the proposal on Tuesday in a public work session.

Davenport, who called the proposed deal one of the best he’s seen at Town Center, would not say how much in tax incentives or public investment it would require. Any public money used would be for infrastructure improvements or similar needs, he said.

Moss would not disclose the figure, either, but said, “Even if it’s just a dollar, it’s too much.”

He questioned public funding of private business and said a floated number of 13-1 private/public investment for the proposal was likely incorrect because there will be additional debts incurred. He also said it was wrong for the city to help fund the construction of living spaces when “the population is not growing and they will pull people away from other apartments.”

Davenport said the theater and residences will be good for Town Center’s “downtown lifestyle” vibe, and that there is already a waiting list for housing in the area.

Councilman Bob Dyer said in an interview that he wants to hear more about the plan before deciding whether he would vote to approve the development.

Several other councilmembers declined to talk on the record for this story.

“Conceptually, almost everybody (on council) thought it was a good idea,” Davenport said.

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