"Game on," said Mayor Will Sessoms, as he announced the Virginia Beach arena project was approved by the city during his ninth State of the City address at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on March 15th. The announcement of the area, set to be ready to host events in 2019, was one of the many highlights covered by Mayor Sessoms as he kicked off the Hampton Roads Chamber's State of the City Series to a record-breaking crowd of over 1300 business leaders, city employees, and citizens of Hampton Roads.
Mayor Sessoms' interspersed his remarks with video clips from the city's interviews with community members, as he covered everything from new development projects to the destruction of Hurricane Matthew.
"Virginia Beach is named one of the top caring cities in the United States," said Mayor Sessoms as he announced the ground breaking of a $28 million dollar Housing Resource Center that will provide efficiency apartments, family and single shelters, supportive services and other community resources like health care and education programs in one facility, the first of its kind in Virginia. Additionally, Virginia Beach was selected as the location for a new 120-bed Veterans Care Center, another first-of-its-kind project for the region that will provide Hampton Roads veterans and their families’ greater access and convenience.
There have also been leaps and bounds made in Virginia Beach's economy. Last fiscal year alone, Virginia Beach gained nearly 1,600 new jobs through 25 company expansions and 13 new company announcements. More than 20 overseas companies now operate their U.S. or North American headquarters in the City of Virginia Beach."It’s great to see our businesses becoming more diverse, with everything from new-to-market shops and restaurants to manufacturing," said Mayor Sessoms.
The city's 6 million yearly overnight visitors make tourism a 1.4 billion dollar industry in Virginia Beach, and updates to the city’s entertainment district — from expanding the ViBe district to creating a new 10-acre entertainment complex on the old Dome site, and from building a new field house to developing a convention center hotel. "This city is ready for the next level," said Mayor Sessoms, "imagine a unique, family-friendly environment with high quality, year-round entertainment, a mix of retail shops and restaurants and ample parking at the Old Dome site instead of a tired run-down parking lot." Currently, the Virginia Beach City Council and the Development Authority are seeking qualified developers before the deadline is April 10 deadline.
Transportation was another topic of Mayor Sessoms discussion. "the future economic health of our city — and the region — depends on us coming up with a viable transportation plan that incorporates high-capacity public transit," he said. "We are looking at the potential for some incredible, transformative projects that could make Virginia Beach THE test city for technological advances in the area of transportation." Other regional transportation projects, such as the widening of I-64 on the Peninsula all the way to Richmond, the widening of the High Rise Bridge, the I-64/I-264 Interchange Improvement Project and the soon-to-be-expanded Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel the first span of the Lesner Bridge, all provide increased mobility to residents. "Next up — we’re planning improvements to the Lynnhaven Business Corridor, "said Mayor Sessoms.
In addition to connecting the roadways, broadband can connect residents in a different way. According to Mayor Sessoms transatlantic underwater fiber cable — the first in the Mid-Atlantic — is on the way to Virginia Beach. This enormous digital pipe will greatly increase the capacity needed to support advanced technologies necessary for regional interconnectivity and global commerce. "Microsoft, Facebook and Telefonica are investing more than 170 million dollars to bring the fastest, most advanced undersea fiber cable in history from Spain to our shoreline later this year, "said Sessoms. Telefonica will bring a second cable from Rio de Janeiro early next year and Globalinx Data Center is developing a 10-acre, 138-thousand square-foot international carrier-neutral data center. "We’ve long been known for the Port of Virginia. These projects — worth another 35 million dollars — are putting Virginia Beach on the map as a new international digital port, " said Mayor Sessoms.
Digital capabilities are even more important when Virginia Beach's biomedical industry is considered. Virginia Beach is committed to supporting the growing biomedical industry, which is why the City Council has established the VABeachBio Innovation Park. "Thanks to our VABeachBio initiative, the expansion of bioscience in Virginia Beach is becoming a reality, " said Mayor Sessoms. Growth can be seen easily in the biomedical corridor of Princess Anne Commons where Sentara Princess Anne Hospital is embarking on a $35 million dollar expansion. The Mayor announced that Virginia Beach is partnering to create more than 80 companies and 2,000 knowledge-based jobs by turning federally funded inventions into start-up companies. The Center for Advancing Innovation and Virginia Beach are creating the VABeachBio Veterans Innovation Challenge. This challenge will be the first-of-its-kind in America. "Entrepreneurs and inventors will compete to turn some of the most dynamic inventions from research labs into successful start-ups," he said.
Mayor Sessoms concluded the State of the City Address on a positive, forward looking note as he told the audience he feels the city is "on the brink of breaking through to a brighter future. We’re adding jobs to strengthen our economy. We’re finding engineering solutions to sea level rise and flood control issues. We’re growing our housing, transportation, tourism, entertainment and retail choices. We’re investing in emerging technologies to keep Virginia Beach on the leading edge of the industry. We’re embracing inclusion and celebrating diversity to create the very best place for all people to live, work and raise their families. "
The Hampton Roads Chamber State of the City Series gives the Mayors of Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Suffolk the opportunity to reflect on the past year and outline their plan for a successful future. The next State of the Cities Series events will be the Portsmouth State of the City Address on April 19th. Additional State of the City events are as follows: Chesapeake (April 27th), Norfolk (May 12th), Suffolk, (May 23rd). Sponsorships are available. Tables of ten can be reserved for $800.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is committed to being an inspiring ignitor, impactful advocate, and powerful economic partner of the cities of the Hampton Roads region and the State of the Cities Series is one of the key ways we meet our strategic direction.
(Pictured here: Mayor Will Sessoms, Virginia Beach, and Bryan Stephens, President and CEO, Hampton Roads Chamber)