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New life for Waterside

Entertainment venue wants to draw hospitality dollars to Norfolk’s waterfront

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Print this page by Elizabeth Cooper

An open-air patio featuring an entertainment venue, six or seven major restaurants and even a swimming pool are on tap for Norfolk’s Waterside within the next two years as a Baltimore developer transforms the aging festival marketplace into a high-energy entertainment venue.

It’s an ambitious plan for the once vibrant riverfront property that has struggled to attract customers and businesses during the past two decades. But City Council believes the Cordish Cos. can restore Waterside to an attraction that will be a catalyst for downtown business development while drawing more tourists to the riverfront.

That’s an area where Norfolk has not seen growth despite a steady regional increase in the hospitality market. “The Norfolk market has remained relatively flat,” says Mayor Paul Fraim. “To grab a portion of those hospitality dollars, this is something that we need and want to do.”

Cordish, a real estate development company based in Baltimore, will invest approximately $40 million in Waterside but will keep the building’s shell. Fraim says a revamped Waterside will increase jobs and tax revenues, complement MacArthur Center and expand the tax base along nearby Granby Street.

Real estate professionals also expect positive outcomes. “We’re optimistic that as the economy recovers, businesses in downtown will continue to grow,” says CBRE Mid-South Regional President Scott Adams. 

Still, vacancy rates hover between 12 and 14 percent for most downtown office properties, including the Bank of America Building. The 21-story building lost several major tenants when the Wells Fargo Center opened in 2010. “It’s a grand building but is somewhat in limbo right now,” says Deborah Stearns, senior vice president for Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate. “Until ownership finds a plan for how to position the building in the future, it is not well positioned to compete for new deals.”

Wells Fargo Center’s success bodes well for a similar project in Virginia Beach slated for completion in January. Ocean 31, part of the Laskin Gateway Corridor project to modernize the resort area, includes an office tower, retail space and apartments. Real estate brokers are excited about the opportunities the project brings. “It adds another level to the oceanfront,” says J.C. Wynkoop, a broker with S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co. in Norfolk. 

Wynkoop is representing Buffalo Wild Wings in its bid to open its ninth Hampton Roads restaurant in Ocean 31. The region has become one of the chain’s top markets, he says, adding that other newcomers to Hampton Roads such as California Pizza Kitchen, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have found a lucrative market. “They’re here and thriving. That says a lot for the market.”

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