Thirsty Camel owner says he’ll rebuild, Norfolk considers launch of Ocean View tourism fund


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A longtime Ocean View bar will be rebuilt following a fire last year, and city leaders hope there will only be more hospitality-related projects on the way for the community.

On Tuesday, Norfolk City Council will vote on their fiscal year 2022 budget, which now includes the formation of the Ocean View Tourism Development Fund. The fund — which will start out at $150,000 — will be used to try to entice new tourism-related businesses to invest in the area from Willoughby Spit to East Beach.

Since 2017, the area has been designated as a “tourism zone” which means it has been eligible for grants from Virginia’s Tourism Development Financing Program. However, Councilman Tommy Smigiel — who represents Ocean View — said up until now, the city has provided no matching funding.

“We’ve been looking at this for quite a few years,” Smigiel said.

With support from Mayor Kenny Alexander, the new fund could be in place in July.

“Anybody who wants to come in, that attracts a business or something that would bring tourists in, would apply for this and then they would get some money to help go toward the process,” Smigiel said.

Smigiel emphasized he has no visions of the Ocean View community becoming anything like the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, which is a 42-block long resort with high-rise hotels.

“But we also want to have maybe a nice hotel, so if we want to do a 5k or a triathlon or another big event, there are places for people to stay,” Smigiel said. “It’s recognized that Ocean View is something that needs to be invested in.”

Smigiel has made it his mission to help reverse what he has called the negative “stigma” of Ocean View.

In recent years, the city has bought up and demolished older properties in order to increase public beach access.

While the new grant funds will only be available for “new” business, a longtime business owner in the community said he is committed to rebuilding the famed Thirsty Camel bar that burned last year.

“As soon as I get my permits in order, we are going to get going,” said Ronnie Boone Sr. on Monday.

Boone, who also owns the Ocean View fishing pier, had the shell of his longtime watering hole torn down last week.

A site plan for the new restaurant — which Boone said would be larger than the 1940’s original — was approved in November by the city.

“The building plan review is complete and what we are waiting for are completed applications signed by a licensed Class A contractor and payment of utility fees to the Department of Utilities,” city spokesperson Lori Crouch said.

For now, only Thirsty Camel mascot “Ernie” the camel remains. Boone said rest assured, Ernie will remain when the new bar is rebuilt in the same place.

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