What’s Next for Virginia Beach’s Town Center?

Editorial

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) — In what seems like a few short years, Virginia Beach’s Town Center has gone from a vastly underutilized parcel of land off Virginia Beach Boulevard to a growing downtown.

The area is now home to a number of top companies, top stores and restaurants, and two performing arts centers. What can be found at the Virginia Beach Town Center today is the result of a vision to change the landscape and a hint of what’s to come.

From high atop the Armada Hoffler Building, Lou Haddad, the company’s CEO, looks out over what’s been accomplished since Town Center began taking shape back in 1997. His eye always focused on the next best fit.

Haddad, who partnered with the City of Virginia Beach, said the idea for Town Center was to do something different. The goal was to build something more vertical and denser in a large resort city, something to attract top-quality companies to the area.

“We think we passed with flying colors. The idea then was to change the landscape. I think most would agree we have succeeded with that,” Haddad told 13News Now.

With Phased Six completed, Town Center now is home to more than 100 commercial tenants, more than half are new to Virginia Beach, a third are new to the region.

However, Haddad said the project’s success can’t be measured by bricks and mortar alone. Town Center needs to work regionally. It needs to be part of the attraction of Hampton Roads. Its role is to sell an urban experience in a resort area and draw as many people here as possible to experience it.

“We’re all at the forefront of trying to make the region better, and so we need to work in concert with the oceanfront, in concert with downtown Norfolk, in concert with Williamsburg,” Haddad said.

For an area that’s long struggled to find a regional identity, Haddad said he believes Town Center’s investors from New York to L.A. are starting to see the region as a good place to invest.

“We are out there singing that tune constantly, and I think so. I think things are changing for the better. For the longest time, we were just known as a Navy town, and resort strip,” said Haddad.

He also adds, there now is a preliminary deal for what will be Phase Seven of Town Center.

Currently, they’re shopping for an anchor tenant for a 250-thousand square foot high-rise tower, someone who will help to custom design space and hopefully bring a tremendous number of jobs to the area, a deal that could take three years to firm up.

In the next 12 months, however, Haddad said to expect to see more conveniences for people who live here. Faster casual restaurants are on the menu, establishments that hopefully will generate the sizzle Shake Shack did.

“I was a bit surprised by all of the feedback that we got on Shake Shack. It just kind of shows you name identity works, and that’s where we need to up Hampton Roads name identity,” said Haddad.

As for the names of news stores that might come here, that’s all still under wraps. However, Haddad said they are negotiating with a number of exciting retailers that aren’t in the market, and he hopes to bring them into the area.

Haddad added those retailers will fit a certain model.

“So, we are after those types that are looking for those companies that are only looking to do, one store in a market, one store in the region, one store in the state, and that’s a long process. It’s not something that happens overnight,” he said.

While bullish on Town Center and its potential, Haddad said cities across the country today that are building a thriving downtown without modern public transportation are few and far between. Building roads and tunnels help the region to grow, Haddad said, but the public transportation piece lags well behind, especially if the region ever wants to see itself as the Gateway to the Mid-Atlantic.

“We need to be prepared to take bold moves and do that same sort of thing, or we need to be comfortable that we’re not gonna be anything more than what we are,” he said.