The Hampton Roads Chamber’s annual State of the City series kicked off with the Norfolk address on February 21. A sold out crowd of 1,000 business and community leaders heard Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim provide an update on the city’s key business development initiatives, municipal progress updates and opportunities.
Some accolades Norfolk has received recently include being selected as an “All America City” by the National Civic League. Standard & Poor upgraded the city’s bond rating from AA to AA+, its first upgrade in 50 years. In addition, RealtyTrac named downtown’s 23510 zip code as the third-best hipster neighborhood in the nation.
Norfolk’s unemployment has fallen to 6.3%, a full percent decline from February 2013. Crime dropped 4% to continue a decade-long trend.
Fraim said, “Development projects announced, underway or delivered in the past 18 months represent $1.3 billion dollars of investment, and more than 3,000 jobs.” The city finalized an agreement with The Cordish Company for the renovation and reinvention of Waterside. The company will invest up to $38 million in a rebranding of the facility into Waterside Live! This project will create hundreds of new jobs and is projected to generate an estimated $93 million in direct revenue to the city over 30 years.
The mayor discussed another exciting project in downtown, explaining, “Thanks to the partnership between the city and Gold Key PHR Hotels, we expect to be under construction this summer on a 23-story full-service hotel and conference center fronting Main, Granby and Plume streets. The developer, Bruce Thompson, plans to open a little more than two years from now.” He added, “It will create 250 new jobs and make us competitive with the D.C. area, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham.”
Carnival Cruise Lines recently decided to resume cruises out of Norfolk next fall. Mayor Fraim said, “I want to thank Governor McAuliffe for helping make this happen. This is good news for Norfolk and the Commonwealth, and good news for Carnival.”
The city is working with the Simon Property Group to develop a portion of Lake Wright Golf Course into a Premium Outlet Center. Fraim said, “The $75 million project will bring 120 upscale shops to the city and create 300 construction jobs and return an estimated $4.2 million dollars annually in tax revenue.” City Council just approved a letter of intent for sale of 30 acres of the Lake Wright Golf Course, land Norfolk owns in Virginia Beach, to a joint venture between Simon and S.L. Nusbaum. It will constitute Phase 2 of a larger plan, forecasted to be a $50 million development.
Other new projects in the city include converting the Trader Building on Plume Street into high-end apartments; Ghent Station, a $17.5 million mixed-use development with a Fresh Market grocery store and a Bon Secours medical office building; and new residential development is completed, underway or planned in a variety of locations throughout Norfolk.
Regarding transportation, the mayor praised the passage of House Bill 2313 last year, which provides significant transportation funding. He said, “Construction is well underway on the largest regional transportation project in a generation – a second Midtown Tunnel. When finished in three years, round-trip travel time between Norfolk and Portsmouth will be cut by 30 minutes.”
Passenger rail service was added to Norfolk last year and in December, an intercity passenger rail service station opened at Harbor Park. Ridership of the Tide light rail continues to increase with 4,000-5,000 daily riders. Mayor Fraim said, “After two and a half years of operation, light rail has proven to be a safe, reliable and on-time mode of transportation that should be expanded to Virginia Beach and elsewhere in the region.”
Thank you to series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum); GEICO (Gold); Cox (Media); Farm Fresh and Sentara Optima Health Plan (Silver). Join the Chamber for the remaining State of the City events taking place through May. For more information and to register, visit Events.HamptonRoadsChamber.com.