Today the Hampton Roads Association for Commercial Real Estate (HRACRE) held their 7th annual property tour. Participants boarded a double decker motor coach at Virginia Beach's Town Center for the five stop tour that focused on Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).
The first stop was 31Ocean. Catching even the organizers off-guard, PHR/Gold Key prepared a special welcome for the tour. The group was taken to the 31st Street Hilton's Sky Bar for desserts and drinks. (No, I didn't. I can't stand the taste of rum.) There on the rooftop, Bruce Thompson gave a talk on what he was doing in the area, pointing to his nearby projects at 34th Street and across Pacific Avenue. He related it back to the City's vision for the Resort Area. For those who have tried to portray Bruce as entirely self-serving, he offered to partner with other developers to get projects done, and even offered to aid projects PHR/Gold Key wasn't even involved in. As a parting gift, tour participants were given passes for themselves and a guest to return to Sky Bar during the 2011 season.
There was then the bus ride into Norfolk, which produced a couple nuggets. First, while the City of Norfolk is hoping for an earlier launch, Tide revenue service will probably begin in September or October. That's due to safety system testing. Second, the City of Norfolk Staffer pushed St. Paul's Quadrant, redevelopment plans that (at least publicly) had appeared to be on the back burner. (St. Paul's Quadrant also came up later at MacArthur Square.) Norfolk's current downtown is 93 acres, while St. Paul's Quadrant would add an additional 110 acres.
The second stop was Fort Norfolk Plaza, one block west of the western terminus of the light rail starter line. It's the first medical office building "of scale" built in the periphery of Norfolk General Hospital in 50 years. It's already about 90% leased, as it offers competitive rates and amenities that the older buildings in the neighborhood don't. We met on the unleased 2nd Floor. Looking across Plum Point Park towards the Elizabeth River, I thought, "For us, that's beautiful; for the VBTA, it's a conspiracy."
The third stop was the Wells Fargo Center, where we met in a Willcox Savage conference room on the 22nd Floor. (You could see the rail line going west to Fort Norfolk.) The site for the building was chosen based on the neighboring Monticello Station, and having light rail right there was greatly helping leasing of the 121 apartments. There's a 1st Floor restaurant, Bite, that some were crowing about. (Memo to self: check it out for breakfast once the adjacent train is running.)
The fourth stop was MacArthur Square, where City of Norfolk Staff spoke to us. First, Norfolk is looking at placemaking around the station: the Slover Library diagonally southwest, a mural was planned for the post office wall facing the station, and the MacArthur Memorial is going to raze the existing theater and build a new $6 million facility facing MacArthur Square. (The current one has its back to it.) Second, TOD overlays are being prepared for all light rail stations. Noted were that there will be bicycle parking requirements in construction of new buildings, and that any such new buildings will be required to be a minimum 30 feet in height.
The final stop was Virginia Beach's Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA). (Actually, the meeting was in a hotel on the Norfolk side of Newtown Road.) SGA Office Manager Barry Frankenfield gave a brief overview of Beach SGA policy, covered some of the particulars in Newtown's seven subareas, and made a sales pitch to work with developers who want to come in and make the vision a reality.
However, Frankenfield made one statement that deserves bold print: the primary public spending in the SGAs will be roads and stormwater. That's it. For those knuckle-draggers who have tried to portray the SGAs as never-ending money pits, the City of Virginia Beach will simply cover transportation and stormwater.
My thanks to HRACRE for being allowed to go on the tour as a guest. Not only was it informative, but that was a nice box lunch and the beer was a pleasant surprise (I do like Coors Light.). For the extremist Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) regularly portraying the business community as the enemy (real conservatives are pro-business), HRACRE welcoming some grassroots activists onto their bus tour shows forward-looking forces can work together.