VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — City Council appears poised to pay more attention to the Oceanfront’s Atlantic Avenue corridor following dire warnings from business owners and community members alike about the state of affairs at the city’s economic engine.
“Intimidating crowds,” gun violence, neglected infrastructure and reduced oversight are just a few of the factors that have led to a “loss of pride” along the resort’s Atlantic Avenue area, according to a presentation made by the city’s Resort Advisory Commission on Tuesday.
Chair of the city council appointed commission, BJ Baumann, didn’t hold anything back in her PowerPoint presentation that displayed images of homeless encampments up against storefronts, dirty sidewalks and trash-filled alleys.
“I think everyone said ‘enough is enough’,” Baumann, who also owns Rockafeller’s on Rudee Inlet, said. “These have been going on for several years.”
As part of her presentation, Baumann showed a decrease in hotel revenues even before the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse for the tourism industry. Further setbacks arrived on May 31, 2020, when rioting and looting caused thousands of dollars in damages following a protest.
Six separate shootings, including one that was deadly, occurred on the resort strip between May 31 and June 30.
“We’ve got to do something,” Baumann said. “We just can’t wait. It’s time.”
Baumann came prepared with a resolution for the council to sign. If approved, it would direct the city manager to re-institute a Resort Programs Office in the resort area and to hire a resort manager to have an on the ground presence.
That way if they see something out of place or that needs attention, like a missing brick in the sidewalk, they can more quickly address the issue. The office would also help coordinate increased entertainment programming and enforce zoning to keep a more clean appearance.
In addition, the commission asks for council to find ways to increase the police presence next season along Atlantic Avenue, with a specific focus on keeping safe parking lots and garages.
Also a priority, the expedited completion of the mobility plan that was included as part of the approved Resort Area Strategic Action Plan. That could change the entire dynamic of the Oceanfront by changing the lane configuration on Atlantic Avenue.
“I believe that taking back control of the atmosphere and improving the feel of what’s going on is certainly going to make a huge difference in the behavioral issues,” Baumann said.
She is not alone in that thought.
Several condominium associations, business associations and civic leagues agree with the recommendations.
Several city council members that spoke following the presentation were impressed with the plan. Even Councilman John Moss, a frequent critic of using public funds to address tourism-related projects, asked to be a co-sponsor to the resolution.
“This is a public safety issue and we must protect our front yard,” Moss said.
While no dollar figure has been announced yet for the new proposals, it will be added to money already budgeted to improve Atlantic Avenue. The city plans to spend $6 million the next six years to replace sidewalks, improve landscaping and street lighting, upgrade and replace electrical
infrastructure and add sculptures and other pieces of art to create a sense of arrival.
Also under development with more than $100 million in city funds is Atlantic Park. Its developers also hope to improve the condition and perception of the resort.
“What we have going on at the resort right now. It’s not just about Atlantic Avenue, it’s about all of the neighborhoods and businesses that survive down here,” Baumann said. “You spend money at the Oceanfront because it has a return. Look at the return on investment and what our tax dollars bring to the city.”
A public hearing is tentatively scheduled at next week’s council meeting.
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