RICHMOND (WAVY) – A bill that would give the city of Norfolk the ability to retain state sales tax revenue to help pay for the development of a new arena has hit a snag in the Virginia General Assembly.
A conference committee was appointed Wednesday in order to try and find common ground between the version of the bill the state Senate passed and the version the House of Delegates passed.
In this case, the one difference has to do with whether the bill becomes legally binding this year or not.
Del. Barry Knight, (R-Virginia Beach), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill “is not ready for prime time.”
It was in 2019 during his state of the city address that Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander announced his commitment to bringing a new “state-of-the-art” arena to the city.
While Norfolk already has the largest indoor arena in the Hampton Roads region with Scope, studies found its roughly 11,000-person capacity limited the types of entertainment acts that would book the venue.
Since then, several concepts have been pitched to the city by developers, including two concepts for the site of Military Circle Mall. However, the last time any public meeting regarding an arena was discussed was exactly a year ago.
This session State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) introduced Senate Bill 1258 which would allow the city to be entitled to all sales tax revenues generated in an eventually-developed entertainment arena in order to repay the bonds issued to construct it.
Del. Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk) introduced a nearly-identical bill that was killed by the House Appropriations Committee by an 11-10 vote. She told 10 On Your Side she was not given a reason why.
Lucas’ version passed the Senate with a bipartisan 28-10 vote.
However, Monday, when it found itself before the Appropriations Committee, Knight placed what is known as a reenactment clause on the bill, meaning it would have to be passed again in 2024 in order to have a chance of becoming law.
“Nobody from the city of Norfolk has even come to see me about this,” Knight said in a phone interview.
He went on to say when he carried the bill to help finance the ill-fated Virginia Beach arena deal in 2014, further vetting had been completed.
“I am seeing in news reports the city isn’t even sure where it will go,” Knight said.
Initially, City Manager Chip Filer told 10 On Your Side “the timing still works” with the reenactment clause. He declined to comment further.
After being passed by the full House chamber, a majority of the Senate also concurred, and it appeared Lucas’ bill with Knight’s amendment was headed to Gov. Glenn Younkin’s (R-Va.) desk.
However, nearly 20 minutes later, Lucas led an effort to reconsider the amendment vote and defeated it.
It’s why the bill is now in conference.
Filer confirmed last year the city was in negotiations with Oak View Group to develop their arena. In September Doug Higgons, a senior vice president for the company said the overall viability of an arena in Hampton Roads could depend on if it opens before a proposed arena in the Richmond region.
On Monday, Henrico County leaders announced that entertainment giant ASM Global, would operate a 17,000-seat arena to be constructed as part of their GreenCity project.
Norfolk could move forward if they want to finance an arena through a Regional Arena Authority if they chose. A bill granting those powers passed in 2020. However in that case Virginia Beach and Chesapeake would also be invited.