NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — While negotiations are continuing with a development team to build a new arena in Norfolk, not all discussions surround placing it at the Military Circle Mall site as widely expected.

In a recent interview, City Manager Chip Filer said that the city is also asking venue management company Oak View Group to consider if a 15,000-plus seat arena could be feasible in Downtown Norfolk, in the St. Paul’s area.

Specifically, the potential site is nearly nine acres, where the Popeyes now stands alone between St. Paul’s Boulevard and Fenchurch Street. The area, until two years ago, also housed a McDonald’s and the Tidewater Gardens public housing complex that’s currently undergoing massive redevelopment.

While the city has never publicly revealed it would be taking development proposals for that site as part of the Military Circle redevelopment process, Filer said it’s about making sure the best site for an arena is chosen.

“We really have to determine whether or not there is a path for an arena on the (Military Circle) site,” Filer said. “Until you settle the arena decision, it’s hard to think of any of the other development.”

A study in 2019 found an arena on the nearly nine acres where Popeyes, parking lots and the former Tidewater Gardens sit could be feasible and provide “entertainment synergy.”

It’s been four years since Mayor Kenny Alexander announced he wanted the city to develop a new large-scale regional arena. However, a specific arena request for proposals has never gone out.

The city has been working to redevelop Military Circle Mall, a 70-plus-acre site, since 2020 when the Economic Development Authority purchased most of the mall.

While the city never formally asked developers for arena plans for the site, in August 2021, two out of the three finalist proposals revealed had them.

While it was initially said that city staff would make a formal recommendation on the project to pursue and that the City Council and Economic Development Authority would vote by spring 2022, that never happened.

In September, Filer confirmed following press inquiries that he was instructed by City Council behind closed doors to begin negotiating a letter of intent with Wellness Circle, LLC, which is the group led by Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams and Virginia Beach-based Venture Realty.

Their plans called for Oak View Group to help fund and pay for a 15,000-seat-plus arena to anchor a new mixed-use development on the site.

“Overwhelmingly the consensus of all eight members of the council is we believe this is our shot for a large regional, high-end arena in Hampton Roads and we want to give that a best of effort we can before we pivot that away from letting that go,” Filer said.

Filer said that is why the St. Paul’s site is also being considered.

A 2019 study conducted by Hunden Strategic Partners for SevenVenues found the downtown site would be “beneficial for the arena and downtown,” calling it “the keystone linking those developments, bringing the energy of large crowds of people to the city in a way that the Scope has been limited.”

Scope, which sits just down the street from the downtown site, holds roughly 11,000 people for a concert. The city determined it was not feasible to expand it and its currently Hampton Roads’ largest indoor venue.

“Should we come to a mutual understanding with Oak View, should they prefer to do the arena … on that site downtown or any site downtown versus the one at Military Circle, then we would commence development agreement for that site instead for the one for Military Circle,” Filer said.

Filer said the city isn’t looking to put out another request for proposals for anything at the St. Paul’s property at this time. Virginia Beach-based S. B. Ballard Construction did submit a proposal for the site in 2019, however Filer said no action was ever taken on it.

“They like the design by Oak View and they like Oak View as a partner. Now, it’s time to determine if it’s financially feasible,” Filer said.

previous attempt to build an arena in Virginia Beach failed after the development team couldn’t secure financing by the city’s deadline. However, in that case, the project was projected to be privately financed.

This arena will need public investment, according to Filer. He previously floated the idea of having other cities chip in but no formal discussions have been had.

He said complicating matters is that the city was awarded a $250-million match grant from the federal government to build a sea wall downtown to protect it from flooding.

“35 percent of the cost of the floodwall project has to be undertaken in a non-federal match … it becomes a debt capacity discussion,” Filer said.

In other words, the city might not be able to afford it.

The delays in a decision on how to redevelop Military Circle Mall won’t stop the timeline to close and demolish the longtime landmark. Its last day will still be January 31.

“The redevelopment of that footprint is going to continue going forward with or without an arena in the footprint,” Filer said.

While in September he expected updates on plans to be given in November, he now asks people to give him until spring.

“I think we are in good shape, but I do think there is also an urgency on this one,” Filer said. “Early to mid-spring, so that you will be able to visibly see all of these projects are on track and all of these projects are going to happen.”