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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
ROGER CHESLEY

Let the selling begin.

Virginia Beach officials and City Council members must do that, since costs to the taxpayers are now becoming clearer for a new Oceanfront arena.

The expense, though, shouldn't be a deterrent. The arena could be a strong catalyst for the resort area, especially in the traditional off-season.

Officials this week told the council the privately financed, $200 million arena would need $52.7 million to nearly $79 million to improve infrastructure at and around the facility. The higher total includes money for streetscapes and intersection work - something the city should do for ease of movement and aesthetics.

"Quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised," Councilman Bob Dyer told me. "I thought it would come in between $100 and $125 (million)."

The totals aren't chump change.

But they're also "manageable ... if the City Council decides to move forward on the project," said Patricia Phillips, the city's director of finance. She told me Wednesday the Beach has $1.34 billion in outstanding tax-supported debt.

Council members should make the case to spend what's necessary to help get people in, out and around the cul-de-sac at the end of Interstate 264. A destination that's tough to navigate could dissuade the folks you're hoping to attract. Residents from the region, in particular, would avoid the frequent congestion.

Other challenges loom.

I was surprised the project developer, United States Management, wants to open with just 15,500 permanent seats. The site has been marketed repeatedly with 18,000 seats.

A presentation by consultant Kimley-Horn and handouts also noted at least 90 percent of events would draw 7,500 people or fewer. That means a lot of empty seats much of the time, even if sections are hidden behind curtains.

City officials believe the traditional tourist off-season, October to April, would be the peak time for the arena. "It's busiest when the resort is least busy," Deputy City Manager Doug Smith said.

I know the city dreams of hosting top concert acts and major sporting events that now bypass Hampton Roads. But the anticipated audience totals make you wonder whether so large a facility is necessary.

Parking also is a concern. The plan includes 2,770 on-site parking spots while relying on nearby parking and commercial spaces for a total of 4,600. The city would save tens of millions by not building a garage.

By comparison, the nearly 8,500-seat Constant Center at Old Dominion University has two adjacent garages with a total of 2,200 parking spaces. Two parking garages on the main campus have a total of 1,200 additional spaces. Shuttles are available for sold-out concerts.

Would the Beach parking plan suffice? Joe Gelardi, arena program director with United States Management, says yes. Advanced ticket sales will help organizers plan for large crowds. Shuttles and trolleys would also help.

"We do see this as being a workable solution," Gelardi noted.

None of these concerns are deal-breakers. The benefits of an arena are sizable, from drawing more tourists to the Beach, to luring a possible major league franchise. The additional revenue and prestige could be significant.

City officials should continue their due diligence, and continue answering residents' questions about this tantalizing project.

Catch Roger and other local pundits on "Another View," a program covering issues involving African Americans in Hampton Roads, on 89.5 WHRV-FM at noon Friday.

Roger Chesley, 757-446-2329, roger.chesley@pilotonline.com, pilotonline.com/chesley, www.facebook.com/RogerChesley

 

virginian-pilot file photo

 

July 10, 2014

 

 
 

 

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