Speakers weigh in on Oceanfront arena deal before council vote

A rendering of the proposed Virginia Beach Oceanfront arena. (Courtesy of www.esgco.com)
A rendering of the proposed Virginia Beach Oceanfront arena. (Courtesy of www.esgco.com)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The City Council chambers were packed Tuesday night, and it took more than an hour for more than 20 speakers to have their say on the arena project — and some of them were cut off for time.

Residents wondered why the developer, United States Management LLC, plans to build the arena with Chinese money and materials — “Where’s the United States in USM?” one speaker asked — while others said it would benefit their American businesses.

“Bottom line, the arena will drive traffic to my business and will help all my friends who helped me and will help Virginia Beach,” said Josh Canada, owner of Back Bay Brewing at the Oceanfront.

Virginia Beach resident and self-described Bernie Sanders fan Michael Callahan told the council that the amount it has tentatively agreed to pay USM over the coming decades “is a joke.”

He totaled estimates in the agreement and said the Beach will pay more than half-a-billion dollars to USM in incentives as it builds, operates and owns the $210 million arena.

Callahan said he came independently to the numbers, which were first reported by Southside Daily.

“Folks, this is not by any stretch of the imagination a public-private partnership,” he said. “This is a classic example of corporate welfare.”

USM Vice President Joe Gelardi said developers will not “under any circumstances” make a dollar in profit from taxes. He said estimates on incentives were added into the deal as caps to prevent the incentives from turning into profit streams.

Mayor Will Sessoms had previously said the incentives were a reward the developers could receive after taking risk on the project.

Others said the arena would increase revenues and taxes by generating spending at other businesses, benefiting the city and its residents financially.

Opinions about the arena deal were first shared at a public meeting less than two weeks ago. One group has since changed its mind: veterans.

The arena is set to be built on city land across from the Convention Center on 19th Street, close to the Tidewater Veterans Memorial Park, near Jefferson Avenue. Veterans were concerned construction would destroy the park, as it did not appear on some renderings.

But USM — which also built the veterans park — and Sessoms assured them it would be safe. Sessoms said Tuesday he would add a resolution to next week’s meeting to reaffirm that.

“Nobody cares more about the memorial than we do,” Gelardi said. “We told them that. They just needed to hear it from the mayor, too.”

The City Council is set to vote Dec. 8 on the arena deal.

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