VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — If the city manager’s budget proposal is adopted as is, money would be made available for the city to purchase the Oceanfront’s iconic boardwalk Dairy Queen and 17th Street stage.
Previously described by its longtime owner, Richard Maddox, as one of the top-grossing Dairy Queens in the country, the nearly 3,600 square foot shop between Atlantic Avenue and the boardwalk at 17th Street has been serving up hand-dipped chocolate cones since 1995.
Maddox also owns the more than 900-square-foot stage and lawn on the other side of the city’s 17th Street park. Under a lease agreement, the city books nightly entertainment there in the warmer months.
However, the reason for the proposed purchase and the long-term plan for the property is not likely something the public would know by briefly scanning the city’s nearly $2.5 billion FY 23 budget proposal. For that reason and others, many regular critics of city spending proposals are already coming out against the idea.
Out of the more than 30 economic and tourism development projects listed as part of the city’s capital improvement project (CIP) budget, a project titled “Resort Area Site Acquisition” has the largest price tag but the smallest description associated with it.
The CIP document explains that $45 million would be set aside to “provide flexibility to purchase land within the Resort Area” and that “targeted purchases include preservation of the 17th Street park and improvements adjacent thereto.”
Other than explaining the funds will come from the city’s tourism investment program — which is made up of mostly hotel, restaurant, amusement and cigarette taxes — that’s about as much as the city is saying publicly.
It has opened the door to widespread speculation on social media among those who often oppose public investment in the tourism industry.
“They have not told any citizens what that represents,” said Rona Marsh, a perennial critic of city spending who is making a run for City Council’s new eighth district this fall. “It’s very concerning.”
Councilman John Moss raised similar concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“I do believe we need to add granularity to that $45 million,” Moss said. “It’s vague. It doesn’t build trust.”
Councilman Linwood Branch, who owns the Days Inn by Wyndham on 10th Street, explained the money was mostly set aside to address longstanding parking concerns.
“Parking is the issue, the resort is the only area is the only place where restaurants and retail stores don’t have to have any parking and as a result, for decades, we’ve used the neighborhoods as our satellite parking lots and that has to come to an end,” Branch said. “We have to make a move now, to deal with the parking and acquire property and construct parking garages so we can get the parking out of the neighborhoods.”
Branch made no public comments about the land along 17th Street.
Neither did Maddox, who himself is a former City Council member. He told a 10 On Your Side reporter “he didn’t wish to discuss the matter right now.”
Following the meeting, Councilman Guy Tower confirmed the City Council had been in discussions with Maddox but no contract has been drafted.
“It’s a great strategic acquisition if we can pull it off,” Tower said. “But it depends on price, depends on lots of things.”
He doesn’t think it would be considered for parking and feels the community would like to keep it as a green space.
Maddox, 66, and his family have been satisfying summer tourists’ sweet tooth for more than 70 years. His father, the late John Maddox, opened up the resort’s first DQ in 1949 at 27th Street.
If a sale is made, the Dairy Queen would be the latest Oceanfront landmark to change hands from its longtime owners. Earlier this month the owners of the Ocean City, Maryland-based Sunsations retail chain purchased the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier for $19 million.
At the end of the letter, it assured public input is necessary.
“If approved, funds being appropriated will not immediately be obligated. Public input will be key on any project,” Dyer wrote.