Long-held dream takes shape

Developers aim to create entertainment venue on ‘The Dome’ site

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Entertainer Pharrell Williams is a partner in the development of Atlantic Park.
Rendering courtesy Venture Realty

In January, Virginia Beach took a major step toward turning a longstanding dream into reality.

City Council approved the terms of a deal submitted by Venture Realty Group for the development of property known locally as “The Dome.” One of the partners in the development is entertainer and producer Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native.

The project will help turn Virginia Beach “into something instantly recognizable along the East Coast and across the United States,” the entertainer said in a statement. “We have renamed this project Atlantic Park — a name that lives up to the potential I hope we are all starting to feel. We want Atlantic Park to offer growth and opportunity for our community to help Virginia Beach reach its fullest potential.”

The 10.35-acre site for Atlantic Park has been a “priority for the city,” says Deputy City Manager Ron Williams.

One of the main parcels of the property was the site of the Virginia Beach Civic Center, affectionately called “The Dome,” which was demolished in 1994.

In early 2017, the city sought out potential developers for the property and by May of that year had received four competing proposals. “By fall [2017], we selected Venture Realty Group,” Ron Williams says.

The city was interested in the creation of a mixed-use development. “We wanted new and authentic restaurants and retail as well as programming that would bring in people,” Ron Williams says.

Pharrell Williams became involved in the project early in the process. “Pharrell had seen a marketing video through a mutual friend, and that turned into him wanting to be involved because the project was visionary,” says Donna MacMillan-Whitaker, Venture Realty’s founding and managing partner.

Having Pharrell Williams join the development team “was attractive” to the city, Ron Williams says, and a big plus for the project.

The estimated $325 million Atlantic Park project will include more than 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 150,000 square feet of office space, parking for more than 1,900 vehicles, a surf park, 426 residential units and a 3,500-seat live entertainment venue.

“The size of that venue is what the market is missing. The city will own the venue, and Oak View Group along with Live Nation will be the operating entity of the entertainment venue and tenant of the city,” says MacMillan-Whitaker.

Douglas Higgons, senior vice president of Oak View Group, a Los-Angeles-based sports and entertainment company, says the entertainment venue will bring major touring acts to Virginia Beach.

“We will have the ability to also play to an outdoor capacity of 5,000,” he adds. “The programming will be something for everyone. We will have varied genres of music and events. The venue will also be available for private and corporate events, and we can scale it down to as little as 500 to 1,000 people.”

The surf park will be the “first urban surf park in the United States,” MacMillan-Whitaker says.

The city will provide money from its Tourism Investment Program (TIP) Fund to develop the entertainment venue ($30 million), public parking facilities ($58 million) and streetscape improvements ($7.5 million).

“Our TIP Fund generates about $40 million a year,” says Ron Williams. The fund was established in 2011 to use revenue primarily paid by out-of-town visitors to finance major tourism projects. “It’s been 20 years since we had a major investment so we built up capacity.”

The city expects Atlantic Park to result in first-year tax revenues of more than $8 million, exclusive of parking, leases and other indirect revenues. City officials anticipate the project will generate $65 million for its general fund and $44 million for public schools over 20 years. Atlantic Park also is expected to employ 3,600 people during construction and create 2,000 jobs once it begins operation.

Venture Realty now is creating a development agreement that City Council will consider in June or July. “If that is approved, we will have another 12 to 18 months of full design and permitting and then start construction. The project would be opening its doors 24 to 36 months from now,” says MacMillan-Whitaker.

Atlantic Park will help the city achieve its goal of being a year-round destination, says Ron Williams. “This complements our other activities such as the Tournament Sports Center. It offers something for locals as well as visitors. It gives them a reason to come to the oceanfront even in the off-season.”

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