‘The venue is going to be better’: Virginia Beach spending extra $9M so more can attend concerts at former Dome site

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — City Council has approved spending additional money on the construction of the entertainment venue planned for the former Dome site in order to accommodate more people.

In an 8-2 vote Tuesday night, Virginia Beach City Council added $9.2 million to their budget for a “world class facility” that could now host up to nearly 6,000 people per show, per Deputy City Manager Ron Williams. Up until this point, figures from the city showed a facility allowing for only 3,500 people per show.

The extra investment brings the total estimated cost of the venue to $44 million, less than a seventh of the cost of the entire estimated $330 million Atlantic Park development. The project backed by Pharrell Williams (no relation) also includes a surf park, restaurants, office space and residential units.

“The venue is going to be better, it’s going to be more attractive. It’s going to fit better on the property,” said Councilman Guy Tower, (Beach District) who serves as one of two City Council liaisons to the project.

Tower said the original estimates the city was using for the entertainment venue had become outdated. In talks with venue operators Oak View Group and LiveNation — who will provide $5 million to outfit the music hall — it became clear to bring in better acts, the city needed to alter its plans.

The majority of the money will go towards the construction of mezzanine and balcony levels — that will include 15 VIP boxes — that’ll increase the total square footage of the venue from 50,000 to just over 72,000.

Roughly $1 million will also go toward a crew loading deck within a planned parking garage and another $1 million will help to expand an outdoor lawn that could accommodate 2,450 concert goers.

The rear of the music venue would have large doors that can open up to the lawn. Tower said this feature was added on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everybody has gone through a change where there is a lot more attraction now to being outdoors,” Tower said.

This is just the latest evolution of the project the city pledged $105 million to back in 2019, making it the largest public-private partnership in Virginia Beach history.

With the goal of boosting tourism and bettering the resort’s image, the complex would span from 18th to 20th streets between Pacific and Arctic avenues on land that for 36 years prior to 1994 was home to The Virginia Beach “Dome.”

The city would pay off its debt by using the Tourist Investment Program, which is made up of mostly hotel, restaurant, amusement and cigarette taxes. The lead partner, Virginia Beach-based Venture Realty, would secure financing for the remaining $230 million. The developer would get an annual incentive payment of $5 million for 20 years in order to reinvest in the property.

The majority of the $9.2 million comes out of the money the city already planned to spend to build parking garages for the project. An additional $4.3 million would come from a fund set up to address parking in the resort area in general.

Tower said there has been discussion among parking consultants that the need for parking structures is changing.

“We may not need as much as we thought we needed,” Tower said.

However Councilman John Moss, who along with Councilwoman Jessica Abbott (Kempsville District) voted against the funding request, said there is no way to know taxpayers won’t be asked to refill those funds.

“No one has seen that analysis, that analysis has not been vetted,” Moss said.

Moss — who has long has been a critic of public-private partnerships — criticized borrowing more money for Atlantic Park over addressing the city’s flooding issues.

Construction is supposed to begin sometime this fall with an opening date of 2023.

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