Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms spoke to nearly 900 business and community leaders and elected officials from Hampton Roads at the Chamber’s Virginia Beach State of the City luncheon on April 13, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Mayor Sessoms addressed the city’s current and future economic position. “Our track record of fiscal management is outstanding and has been a saving grace…,” he declared. “Our debt is modest, and our conservative fiscal policies are paying big dividends.”
Even with federal and state funding decreasing, Virginia Beach managed to close a budget gap of $111 million last year. With this year’s shortfall close to $24 million, Mayor Sessoms is looking ahead. “Our city government operations are efficient, cost-effective, and still responsive-delivering services our residents have become accustomed to,” he said. “The state of the city’s finances will not be compromised on my watch.”
One of the city’s largest economic drivers is Naval Air Station Oceana (NAS Oceana). The land acquisition program between the state and the city has been restored and is moving forward. An agreement has been reached to acquire 513 dwelling units; of those, 453 have been eliminated. “We’ve threaded the needle that makes Oceana better for the Navy…and better for the prosperity of Virginia Beach residents and businesses,” said Mayor Sessoms.
The importance of the Navy and the military community to the city as well as the region was made very clear by the mayor. “All our cities, counties and towns need to appreciate what we have, and we need to work together, and in partnership with the military, to meet the needs of the Department of Defense,” he declared. Mayor Sessoms mentioned that last year the Association of Defense Communities named Virginia Beach “Active Base Community of the Year.” He credited this accomplishment to all the efforts that were made in conjunction with NAS Oceana.
Just as the military presence is crucial for the growth and development of the city, so is the importance of local businesses, according to the mayor. “Our city is listed twelfth among cities that can give you a career boost,” he said. Amerigroup, a managed health care organization, was listed as a Fortune 500 company last year.
The mayor announced that a German lithium ion battery company, BMZ GmbH, will launch its United States headquarters in Virginia Beach. “Our vision of establishing Virginia Beach as a hub for alternative energy is taking shape!,” he acknowledged. Another development that was announced was that LifeNet Health will break ground this month on its new Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
Future developments, including converting the empty lots at the Dome site into a new entertainment center; fully showcasing the convention center with a hotel; constructing Oceanaire Resort and Conference Center on 35th Street; and developing the Gold Key PHR on 31st Street and Pacific Avenue, are top priorities for the mayor. He said that successful public-private partnerships and future business developments are “diversifying our tax base, creating jobs, and improving the quality of life for all!”
In addition to recognizing the military and small businesses, Mayor Sessoms also applauded the Agriculture reserve program. “We have preserved almost 9,000 acres for farming for generations to come,” he said. “The overall impact of agriculture was more that $122 million to this city last year.”
The mayor also addressed the significant impact the oceanfront has on the city and the potential for wind energy to contribute even more. “I don’t just feel strongly that we should establish a wind factory off the coast, I’d like to see Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads become the epicenter…,” he said. “We have the port facilities to import, store, construct, and deploy wind turbines.”
Mayor Sessoms declared that transportation is “the single largest challenge affecting the state of our city and region.” He told the crowd that a few weeks ago, Governor McDonnell included $360 million in the state budget for road and bridge projects in Virginia Beach. He explained that Virginia Beach will get more of the local roads projects funded than any other jurisdiction in Virginia. Construction will take place on the Lesner Bridge; widen Witchduck, Laskin, and Holland roads, and extend and widen Lynnhaven Parkway. “As I’ve been promising for years, all of these new roads will have bike trails,” said the mayor.
Another major transportation issue that the mayor emphasized was the need for citizens to support the Patriots` Crossing. Patriots` Crossing would extend the I-564 spur near the Naval base and link it to I-664 near the Monitor-Merrimac bridge tunnel.
The mayor also stated that until Norfolk’s starter segment of the light rail project is up and running, he cannot support making any further decisions on the light rail extension in Virginia Beach. Although he cannot support the light rail extension, the mayor did say “we must achieve viable public transportation alternatives.” One of these alternatives is the possibility of being a part of the national High-Speed Rail network. “We have positioned the region to be competitive should the nation’s priorities allow the development of the High-Speed Rail network.”
Lastly, Mayor Sessoms encouraged the audience to be “stewards of the next generation’s future.” “We must focus our attention on preserving great schools, great services, great neighborhoods, and a healthy environment,” he said. He thanked the Mayor’s Action Challenge for Children and Families for all their hard work on making Virginia Beach a safer place, securing a financially fit future for low-income families, curbing childhood obesity, and working to ensure that the city’s preschool children are prepared for kindergarten. “It is our responsibility to move ahead, to take hold of new opportunities, and to put the wind at the back of the generations coming after us,” the mayor declared. “Let’s give them every chance we had to live in a great city-the best city in the world: Virginia Beach, Virginia.”
The Chamber thanks series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting), Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Gold), Cox Communications (Media) and Farm Fresh (Silver). Virginia Beach Bronze sponsor was GEICO.