VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Alec Yuzhbabenko didn’t think seriously about studying architecture until his senior year at Kellam High School in 2011.
Seven years later, he has a college degree from Virginia Tech and it’s his idea fueling the redevelopment of the former Dome site.
“It started out as a dream,” said Yuzhbabenko, 26, who grew up surfing and skating in Virginia Beach. “I took old newspaper clippings of the Dome site and actually did initial sketches over top of it.”
During an internship in 2014 with Clark Nexsen, he created his own plan for the Virginia Beach Central Entertainment District. It included a mixed-use development, anchored by a surf park, on the vacant 10-acre property between 18th and 20th streets at the Oceanfront.
“My design proposed to close down 18th Street and create a linear park out of it, so along the way you would have little parklets,” he said.
When he returned to Tech senior year, the project became part of his senior thesis. At 22 years old, he turned napkin sketches into computer renderings. The finished product became a bound book: ‘A Hybrid Typology.’
Yuzhbabenko says the book sat on his shelf for more than two years until he got connected with Joe LaMontagne, who’s wanted to bring a surf park to Virginia Beach for years.
“A friend of mine sent me a text message with Alec’s thesis and I looked at it and was like, ‘what, how does this even exist right now?’” recalled LaMontagne. “It’s been crazy for Alec because this is a dream of his, but in my mind it’s been crazy because so many other things had to fall into place for us to get to this point right here.”
Last February, LaMontagne introduced Yuzhbabenko to Mike Culpepper with Venture Realty group, the developer with an exclusive agreement to breathe new life into the 10-acre parking lot.
Yuzhbabenko, who works for Norfolk-based architectural firm Hanbury, and LaMontagne, who owns H2O Investments, are now partners on the project. Music superstar Pharrell Williams is also on board as a partner.
In the current proposal, retail, apartments, a music venue and parking structures all surround the two-acre surf park. The Wavegarden technology, which has yet to launch in the U.S., is able to create about 1,000 waves an hour.
“Stepping back and realizing, wow, this is kind of the evolution of my thesis it’s something that’s incredibly surreal for me to wrap my mind around.”
The results of a citywide survey should 73 percent of the 2,300 respondents either ‘love’ or ‘like’ the idea of a surf park at the former Dome site.