NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — It’s not an arena, but could the former Military Circle Mall site be the future home of the VA’s second health care center in the region?
Last week, the Norfolk Economic Development Authority approved what is known as an “option to purchase” agreement for the potential sale of 24-acres, to be used for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient health clinic.
The clinic, which would be similar to the one currently under construction in Chesapeake, would be roughly 219,000 square feet and sit on the southern end of the more than 70-acre former mall property. It would be the second largest facility in the Hampton VA Healthcare System behind the VA Hospital and cost an estimated $62 million.
A spokesperson for the system said 68% of veterans they serve in Hampton Roads live on the Southside.
“We are going where the data says the need is,” John Rogers, public information officer for the Hampton VA, said. “There is the need for two facilities on the Southside.”
The plan to build another VA Healthcare Center has been in the works for the last year according according to a copy of the VA budget. Rogers said it has nothing to do with the now abandoned scrapped proposals laid out last year to the AIR commission.
While the federal government didn’t mandate a specific site in its recent request for lease proposals, it did set out boundaries that would place the center somewhere near where Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach meet.
Other requirements include the need for 1,250 parking spaces, be new construction, be located within a half-a-mile radius to restaurants, hotels and shopping and not be in what has formerly referred to as 100-year floodplain.
Military Circle Mall, which closed in January after more than 50 years, fits all those requirements. It actually boasts some of highest elevation levels in the city, coming in at 15 feet above sea level.
The resolution passed by the EDA states that “several developers” have contacted the authority about having an option to purchase land at the site, in the case they’d be selected to built the center.
Nothing would happen until the VA awards a license.
“What we passed is set up as a template,” Barry Hunter, the EDA’s attorney said. “We haven’t entered into any option agreement yet. This allows the chair, vice-chair and director to enter into negotiations.”
The EDA has set a sale price that could be as much as $7.8 million if all site demolition is completed by the authority prior to a sale.
Some of the buildings that sat in the property are already down, including the former Piccadilly Cafeteria and Shoppes at Military Circle. The former DoubleTree Hotel, Cinemark and Military Mall Food Court buildings still stand.
However the big question? Wat does this all mean for the three proposals made for Military Circle Mall redevelopment that still haven’t been acted upon?
It was August 2021 when Norfolk released shiny renderings from three development teams of what “could be” of the one time shopping mecca that had fallen on hard times. Two proposals showed futuristic arenas, one showed a new amphitheater and all included new housing options with community amenities.
The community expressed excitement about the possibilities at that time. Since then, no formal action has been taken.
Military Circle Mall has closed and the demolition of three buildings has already occurred.
While Norfolk’s former city manager confirmed the team including Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams and Venture Realty had the proposal favored in a closed session by City Council, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request confirm negotiations stalled, mainly over the financing and location of a new arena.
In July, Sean Washington, the city’s interim economic development director, said all proposals are technically still on the table.
“Initially of course the instructions were to begin to have some high level negotiations with the Wellness Circle, that is still ongoing, but that doesn’t mean we have said to the other parties in itself that we are no longer willing to have conversations with them,” Washington said. “We want to take the time to make sure we get this thing right.”
However all three development teams confirm they knew nothing about the VA possibly taking a large chunk of the land. All three either declined to comment or were not immediately available to provide their reaction.
Washington hasn’t responded to 10 On Your Side’s requests for comment as to why that is, or what this means for the proposals moving forward.
However Mayor Kenny Alexander said he doesn’t think it will have much affect at all.
“This does not change the overall vision for the Military Circle Mall site,” Alexander said. “The developer chosen by the city for the majority of the site would likely have to work with the VA.”
The EDA purchased the site in several stages back in 2020 with the goal of repositioning the entire Military Circle Mall property.
They also inherited the mall’s former operating agreement. The agreement, meant to protect the input of anchor stores in a retail centers operation, requires the input of other property owners for redevelopment. They include Sentara, which owns the former JCPenney box store, the Firestone Complete Auto Care and Hurricane Express Wash.