Mayor Will Sessoms addressed a record breaking audience of over 1,400 in his 2018 Virginia Beach State of the City address on Wednesday, March 28. In the packed Virginia Beach Convention Center, it was tourism, employment, and planting the seeds of the future that resonated throughout Sessoms’ speech with the theme of “Win, win, win!” In its 55 year history, “Virginia Beach has come a long way. What will the next 55 years bring? The seeds of that future are being planted today!”
The breaking news of the event revolved around development at the Oceanfront and the announcement of the year round world-class surf park, The Wave. This will include a “scenic streetscape with access to the ViBe District, the Convention Center and a brand new, top notch Sports Center, that will pack them in year-round,” Sessoms said. The Wave video was unveiled which was narrated by Virginia Beach native star Pharrell Williams and revealed plans for a new dome site, to resemble the one many Virginia Beach residents of the 1980’s grew up with. Williams narrated, “The Wave reflects the potential of Virginia Beach and its people and can inspire the next generation of children.”
“The indoor facility will generate more than 60 new events a year,” Sessoms said. He also unveiled a plan to bring NCAA Track and Field athletes to Virginia Beach with the new facility that could seat 5,000 spectators.”
There were also plans to review a bid for a concrete public pier project that would bring in an oceanfront plaza, a hotel, shops, restaurants and parking. The mayor stressed that funds come from the successful financing tool called TIP (Tourism Investment Program) which specifically sets aside funds to build Virginia Beach’s tourism portfolio.
Sessoms also used his platform as an opportunity to discuss misinformation regarding public private partnerships, “When we started using public-private partnerships 30 years ago, Virginia Beach was out in front as an innovator in the area of public financing. And the truth is, they are still often sorely misunderstood”
The Mayor urged the city to fight back against the spread of misinformation, “These are investments that benefit residents in real and tangible ways. Not only do they result in higher quality projects, but they pay dividends by reducing the tax burden on businesses and homeowners. That’sone of the reasons why Virginia Beach has the lowest real estate tax rate and the highest quality of life in the region”
Education also took a large role in the speech as Sessoms announced that Old Dominion University will renovate the Virginia Beach Higher Education Center “to offer new, high demand graduate programs in the health sciences. Starting this year ODU’s Virginia Beach Higher Education Center will offer upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in nursing and in telehealth training. In the future, ODU plans to launch the School of Public Health and open a clinic to provide primary care, physical therapy and speech therapy, along with three other health-related centers.”
In a related announcement the Mayor revealed a “10,000 square foot mental health clinic has selected Virginia Beach for its newest location.” Providing healthcare service for military families, “The Cohen Veterans Network will serve up to 600 post-9/11 veterans and their families a year.”
Sessoms did not neglect the challenges of the past year. Addressing the lost arena proposal head on, as well as the pass on Amazon’s second headquarters. “There are no regrets, we will continue to compete every day, globally, to build upon our strengths as a community.”
Amongst recent discussion of regionalism, Sessoms addressed the area as Coastal Virginia and indicated air travel in and out of Coastal Virginia needs to be affordable and accessible. A task force has been established to evaluate air service. “This is a perfect project where regional cooperation can benefit us all. It’s time to see where the Norfolk, Newport News and Richmond airports can work together, because they can no longer afford to compete against one another.”
Reveling in the city’s accomplishments in tourism Sessoms said, “We introduced entertainment in the resort area, and we revitalized our boardwalk. We widened our beaches. We built the amphitheater, the convention center, the Virginia Aquarium and the Sandler Center. Each of these projects has added to our own quality of life, to the attractions visitors enjoy, and to our bottom line. Win – win – win.”
Sessoms reiterated his vision of looking to the future and preserving the past and promised to continue working “to make Virginia Beach deserving of a spot in the top places to visit and live.”
The Hampton Roads Chamber State of the City Series continues next with Portsmouth on April 6th and Suffolk on May 8th.