VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Three major events are leaving the City of Virginia Beach. Each cites different reasons, but they are still leaving: the Rock-N-Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon, the Something in the Water music festival, and most recently the Patriotic Festival.
Even one of Virginia Beach’s loudest cheerleaders, Mayor Bobby Dyer, admits there’s lost momentum with COVID-19 and Something in the Water leaving.
There are also frustrated business leaders like Richard Maddox.
“I think we are left with a resort, and I don’t think it is hyperbole to say, we are literally witnessing the deterioration, disintegration of the resort strip before our very eyes,” Maddox said.
Maddox expressed his frustration during an interview at his home in Virginia Beach.
“I think there is a great deal of despair on Atlantic Avenue that we don’t really know where we are going,” the Atlantic Avenue businessman said. “There’s no one at the helm, and there’s no master plan.”
Since 1947, Maddox’s family has done business on Atlantic Avenue.
He’s quick to show the family’s first Dairy Queen back in 1949, and the one today at 17th Street and Atlantic Avenue, which is one of the highest-grossing in the country,
“We lost all our senior and middle management in the city. We lost our city manager. We lost all our assistant city managers,” he said. “We lost our police chief. We lost our zoning administrator.”
Maddox is also a former Virginia Beach city councilman.
Maddox is not happy. He is experienced with the resort area, city council, running a successful business, and he has a lot to say.
He says Virginia Beach’s biggest problem is staff departures, which take away memory and history which has created, he says, a toxic bureaucracy. Pharrell also recently used the word “toxic” when describing the city’s energy.
“The culture we had as a resort, the culture of getting things done, the culture of developing and evolving with a product people want, has gone by the wayside,” Maddox said.
Maddox knows there is no doubt that culture shift was one of the reasons why the Patriotic Festival hit the road to relocate to Norfolk.
“We used to be the city that had a mentality reaching out to events like the Patriotic Festival, facilitating things, and saying ‘What is it you need to make it happen?’ … We aren’t doing that anymore,” he said.
To Maddox’s point, 10 On Your Side has seen text messages where Patriotic Festival organizer Ira Agricola expressed frustration involving special events.
“The special event permit in Virginia Beach involves all the departments — Public Safety, Public Works, EMS, Fire, all the departments,” Agricola said on Monday, Oct. 18 at the signing announcing the Patriotic Festival was relocating to Norfolk.
He said Virginia Beach became too bureaucratic, too difficult. A city of “no” instead of a city of “yes.”
“We would have these meetings, and we wanted it to be more of a give and take, and a lot of times it was not,” Agricola said.
After hearing that story, Maddox said it shouldn’t be so difficult.
“They don’t need the impediments of nonstop bureaucratic roadblocks whether it be the fire marshals, whether it be a number of other things,” he said.
WAVY’s Regina Mobley asked Mayor Dyer last week whether the Something in the Water cancellation was for sure.
“Is Something in the Water dead in the water?” she said.
Dyer quickly answered: “As of right now.”
Dyer admitted to 10 On Your Side that Virginia Beach has lost momentum after Pharrell canceled his Something in the Water festival.
“We are going to be known as that inclusive welcoming community. We have a lot of work to do to build some bridges,” Dyer added.
We read Maddox the quote.
“Well, I mean what has taken so long? We have had these discussions for two, three, four years now. I’d rather see deeds than hear words,” Maddox said.
“Whatever perceptions are out there, we are going to overcome and we are not only going to survive we are going to thrive,” Dyer said.
Maddox responded to that Dyer quote as well.
“We clearly do not have that national reputation, and I don’t see anything aggressive happening to change that,” he said.
This brings us to newly appointed Virginia Beach City Councilman Linwood Branch.
“This should give us a chance to really re-assess our whole program,” Branch told WAVY, referring to the loss of the Patriotic Festival.
To Maddox’s point, he wants to see something aggressive, and we may have seen something that fits that description.
As the City of Norfolk was signing the new agreement with The Patriotic Festival, Branch was at the signing looking for new options to complement the success of the Virginia Beach Sports Center.
“I am here because we have some holes to fill now, obviously with the events that have left. Our event contractors are here today, and we are going to be talking with them about what we can do to fill that in… Matching the Sports Center schedule and the festival and public events schedule for the city. We then will start by filling in the new events to fill the holes,” he said.