VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — It’s a milestone several other recent high-profile Oceanfront projects never made, but after more than six years of public hearings, votes, planning and a series of setbacks, the money is in and construction has commenced on Atlantic Park.

At roughly $350 million, it’s the largest public-private partnership in the City of Virginia Beach’s history. Plans call for a new entertainment district with an indoor/outdoor concert venue, apartments, office space, restaurants, and retail space all anchored by a first-of-its-kind surf park.

It could eventually cover 12 acres of space known as the former “Dome site” between 18th and 20th streets between Pacific and Baltic avenues and result in several million dollars in new tax revenue each year.

Developers behind the project call it “transformative” for the resort, and feel a slight sense of relief to finally see dirt being moved.

“I think our team has gone through a lot. Our team has withstood a lot. And we’re really proud of the fact that we were able to persevere,” Mike Culpepper, a principal with Venture Realty Group, said during a site visit Wednesday. “Whether it’s the economy or whether it’s horrible tragedies that have affected our city … ultimately, this really isn’t about us. It’s really about a lot of people coming together to try to change the resort for the better and that’s what we’re most proud of.”

Culpepper along with Donna Whitaker-MacMillan of Venture lead the project team which also includes the city, W.M. Jordan Construction, Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams, Bishard Development, and Priority Title/H20 Investments.

The idea to put a surf park two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean was actually born back in 2014 in the mind of Alec Yuzhbabenko, who like Culpepper, graduated from Kellam High School.

Culpepper said through it all, the goal has remained the same: build something that will elevate the Oceanfront in ways not replicated anywhere else.

Phase one of the development, which will cost $335 million, will bring the 3,500-seat indoor entertainment venue, with the ability to host a total of 5,000 people with an outdoor component, to the corner of what is currently 20th street and Arctic Avenue. It will be aptly named “The Dome” to pay homage to the Alan B. Shepard Civic Center that sat near the site from 1958-1994. With its futuristic spherical roof, it was known as “The Dome” to locals and hosted acts such as The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles.

The venue will be operated by the Oak View Group with Live Nation managing the programming.

A massing of Atlantic Park laying out the two phases. (Courtesy: Atlantic Park VB)

The development will also include 309 apartments, 10,000 square feet of office space, a 1,4555-space parking garage and 100,000 square feet of space which will house a virtual reality attraction and high-end Mexican, Asian and statehouse restaurants.

But by far the focal point of the development is the Wave Garden Cove surf park that’ll be the size of a major league ballpark.

“The first Wave Garden Cove facility in the United States, which is an extraordinary feat,” Culpepper said. “There are others in Spain and Australia and the UK. But we’re now going to be the first Wave Garden Cove facility here in the US.”

It is already built and currently awaiting shipping in Bilbao, Spain. 

The Wave Garden equipment awaiting shipment in Bilbao, Spain. (Courtesy: Mike Culpepper)

The technology will be able to generate 1,000 waves per hour, as high as six feet for experienced surfers and as low as one foot for beginners according to Venture.

It’ll cost $89 to $159 per hour to use and have a capacity of around 40 surfers at a time.

There will be an expanded beach experience, including cabanas, corporate built-in
facilities and a true “beach club” environment.

Culpepper wants to make clear, the 3.5 million gallon pool is not comparable to what can be found down the street at Ocean Breeze.

“You are in that lagoon for the purpose of surfing or boogie boarding or longboarding or conducting some type of recreational activity. It’s not for leisurely waiting around with a drink,” Culpepper said. “And people will appreciate the size and scope of this lagoon when they drive by it soon as they can actually see the sheer mass of the facility. You’re not going to miss it. “

Beach Street, a resort operator who has experience with other surf parks, has been hired to manage the facility.

Wave Rider Vehicles, a local surf shop and surfboard manufacturer, is already committed to opening up a small boutique-style shop at the site and provide lessons.

“It’s going to help solidify Virginia Beach’s abilities to host quality surf events,” L.G. Shaw, president of Wave Rider Vehicles, said. “To see this project come to life is pretty amazing.”

Culpepper says there will be places for anyone to watch the activity free of charge. He hopes it can open by the Summer of 2025.

Phase II could follow sometime after that with a focus on attracting experiential retail.

The binding development agreement to develop Atlantic Park was originally approved in late 2019.

At the time, skepticism ran rampant after a public-private partnership to build an arena at the Oceanfront fell apart in what some might consider a dramatic 11th-hour moment in 2017 when financing couldn’t be met after several extensions.

Another deal to build a new fishing pier sank when it became poisoned by politics.

Financing a first-of-its-kind surf park was already going to be difficult from the get-go, however – in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic costs ballooned due to inflation and supply chain issues.

However, Mayor Bobby Dyer made seeing the project come to fruition one of his goals.

“Atlantic Park changes everything for Virginia Beach,” Dyer said. “With year-round surfing, entertainment, community gatherings and the influence of global visionaries like Pharrell,
the heart of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront will be changed forever and for the better, for locals and visitors alike.”

As of today, the city will have roughly $125 million invested in the construction of the entertainment venue, parking garages, and streetscape improvements. The city is planning on paying off the majority of its debt by using the Tourist Investment Program, which is made up of mostly hotel, restaurant, amusement, and cigarette taxes. 

The development team will cover its $210 bill with the sale of the Atlantic Park Community Development Authority (CDA) Revenue Bonds and the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) Sports and Entertainment Facility Revenue Bonds.

Those bonds would be paid through revenues and additional taxes levied on the project.

Construction is expected to take 20 months at least according to Culpepper as 45,000 cubic yards of dirt must be removed.

The closure of the municipal lots at 18th and 19th streets will mean the resort loses more than 500 parking spaces. While the city has yet to take action on where to park visitors during construction they have launched a new webpage so people can track updates.

By Thursday afternoon, all the trees in the project’s footprint had been chopped to their stumps. However, Patrick Ryan with Benevolent Design Co., said every one of those trees will find new life on-site.

“We’re taking logs and turning them all the way into finished high-end heirloom quality furniture,” Ryan said. “We’re working with the folks at Venture right now and getting the furniture list all put together and finalized. it’s a lot.”

“Whether you’re coming here to spend money or whether you’re coming here to leisurely walk through. You’re going to be able to do that,” Culpepper said. “You don’t have to have a premium experience to really appreciate the significance of the project and the uniqueness of what we have to offer.”

Check for the latest updates.