Sunday, January 29Hampton Roads Weekly

Making Waves

by Jeff S. Howell, Jr., Esq.

Why Pharrell Williams’ home grown “Atlantic Park” development is the right move for the Dome Site

On January 15, 2019, the Virginia Beach City Council approved a terms sheet for a project widely known as “The Wave”; a $329 million development that will occupy the long vacant Dome site at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The visionaries behind this project are led by

none other than Virginia Beach’s own Pharrell Williams. So far the details of the project have been unfairly marred in controversy flowing from the ever-present riptide of local politics.

Nevertheless, the published renderings promise something truly special: a mixed-use development supporting office and retail spaces, restaurants, and, of course, the signature wave

pool so many of the project’s opponents have maligned for its proximity to the ocean.

However, to our local surfers the guarantee of decent waves in a town with unreliable surf does not seem quite as ridiculous. Still opponents offer the same refrain they lobbied against the public-private partnership that recently rescued the Cavalier Hotel: no more tax dollars for projects in the resort area until we solve the City’s stormwater woes. However, critics’ concerns do not occupy the same wavelength as the facts of the proposal. They also fail to consider the

tangible and intangible dividends this investment will pay to the citizens of Virginia Beach for years to come.

Ahead of the January 15 meeting, Deputy City Manager Ron Williams held a detailed briefing laying forth the facts of the project plainly and transparently. It is well known that the Oceanfront has had a longstanding need for a performance venue since the Dome was demolished. However, the reach of the proposal extends much further to include a new category of establishments which Ron Williams referred to as “experiential retail”. He offered “Lego Land” or “Crayola World” as hypothetical tenants fitting this mold; unique, family-friendly

establishments offering experiences rather than merely selling products just as easily purchased online. This forward-thinking tracks with shopping malls nationwide who are swapping

traditional anchor stores with indoor amusement parks and other experienced-based attractions to counter the downward trends in brick and mortal retail. Establishments such as these could assist the City in sustaining year-round activity in the resort area. 

During that same briefing, Ron Williams also explained that the project satisfied one of the major objectives of the City’s Resort Strategic Action Plan; namely the creation of new districts with distinct identities. For comparison he alluded to the 31 st Street Corridor and one can certainly see the thriving Vibe District as another example. Most importantly, despite prevailing

criticisms, Williams explained that the city’s $95 million projected contribution to the project would be funded, not out of general tax revenue, but out of the Tourism Investment Program (TIP). The TIP is a fund generated from taxes on meals, admission, cigarettes, and other non-

essentials and is borne primarily by visitors to the resort area.

Despite the facts, some constituents still perceive a false dichotomy between investments in tourism and infrastructure. Perhaps they fail to recognize the critical role of local governments in nurturing a diverse economy and local identity. Others seem to think this role should be limited until every conceivable infrastructural problem has been solved. However, opportunities like these are precisely why the TIP fund exists. There does not seem to be any reason we cannot seize this opportunity and still seek solutions for stormwater issues from the general fund.

Investments like these may even yield significant contributions to the general fund itself in the long term. This could mean

 more resources for stormwater without an increase in tax rates. 

Fiscal concerns aside, the cultural value of a homegrown project like this one should not be understated. One of the remarkable things about Virginia Beach is its abundance of talented

natives who dedicate substantial resources to contribute to its unique culture and identity. In a video promoting the project, Pharrell Williams makes clear his passion for his hometown in his own words: “While most people associate waves with water, a wave is really about energy. . .and Virginia Beach’s untapped energy. . . -when harnessed-. . .can power the future”. Few cities in our region generate this sort of civic pride and passion for coming home and giving back. If we wish to nurture this unique affinity, we simply cannot stifle creative and vibrant proposals when they are otherwise feasible and fiscally sound. As someone who lives, works, and pays taxes in the Oceanfront community, I feel confident I am not the only one who is excited to see this project make waves in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach native, Jeff S. Howell, Jr., Esq. is a business attorney and president of The Law Offices of Howell & Young in Virginia Beach. Founded in Virginia Beach’s Vibe District, his practice specializes in construction law, judgment enforcement, and providing legal solutions for small, family owned, and closely held businesses in Hampton Roads. He can be reached by telephone at 

(757) 227-5030 

and by e-mail at