Four competing groups — comprised of major developers, entertainment figures and arena operators — have been shortlisted by the city of Norfolk to redevelop Military Circle, officials said Tuesday.
The city envisions new homes, shopping, hotels, restaurants and offices to revitalize the area. And many of the groups vying to carry out the overhaul have experience that suggests another element not specifically mentioned in the city’s plans: an arena.
Last fall, Norfolk put out a call for developers to help make the city’s vision a reality: a mixed-use development built around the bones of the old mall and tied into the light rail system.
The long-discussed redevelopment has been kicked into full gear over the last year, as the city has acquired property and sought teams of developers and architects that thought they could do the work.
Eight groups, some of which include more than a dozen companies, applied. Economic development officials narrowed it down to four groups full of heavy hitters in development, entertainment and arena management and announced the finalists at Tuesday’s City Council work session.
Next: a showdown to see whose proposal can net them the contract to reinvent an economically floundering segment of the city located at a major interstate junction near Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
The short-listed groups will have a chance to develop a full proposal due in April. Norfolk has said it hopes to choose a development partner by this summer.
City officials have talked for years about the need to redevelop the Military Circle area, as retail businesses and particularly shopping malls have faltered in the face of online shopping.
In 2014, the city bought the mall’s J.C. Penney building after the department store closed, revamping the space for use by Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health.
Over the past year, Norfolk’s Economic Development Authority bought the rest of Military Circle Mall and a long-closed hotel, securing control of enough of the area to get the ball rolling on large-scale redevelopment efforts.
One thing notably lacking from the city’s request: mention of an arena.
A flashy new arena has been Hampton Roads’ economic development white whale since the turn of the century. Efforts at the Virginia Beach oceanfront for an 18,000-seat arena seemed like a done deal in 2017, until it collapsed just before the parties signed on the dotted line and devolved into finger-pointing and lawsuits.
And Norfolk has long been looking at possibilities, playing with the idea of expanding the aging Scope arena until abandoning that idea in 2019 in favor of potentially building a brand-new one.
Last year, the General Assembly cleared the way for the cities of Hampton Roads to create a regional arena authority. Norfolk sought the ability to do the same on its own, but the bill didn’t go anywhere, so the city seems unable to go it alone for now.
However, most of the groups on the short list seem poised to propose some kind of arena. Three of the four groups include companies that specialize in designing or operating major sports and entertainment arenas, and some have direct links to the kind of sports or concerts that could find a home there.
Those teams, conglomerations of companies all partnered up for a big development project, include major figures and developers both from Hampton Roads and beyond:
The Crossroads Partnership, 10 companies including VB-based construction company SB Ballard, NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s real estate company and ASM Global, a venue management company that oversees dozens of arenas, including the Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets play.
Norfolk MC Associates includes Bruce Thompson’s Gold Key and the Franklin Johnston Group, two major local developers.
Wellness Circle LLC includes more than a dozen companies and investors, including rapper and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams, Virginia Beach developers Armada Hoffler and Venture Realty, major concert promoter Live Nation and Oak View Group, which manages major arenas, stadiums and convention centers across the United States.
Norfolk Next includes 14 groups, including Arlington-based developer Bonaventure Realty, architects specializing in design of sport and entertainment facilities, and The Garcia Companies, the owner of which recently bought the faltering football league XFL along with other investors.
One big reason the city is hot to jumpstart redevelopment in Military Circle: Norfolk has identified the area as the highest ground in the city and, as such, the most resilient to sea level rise. Ultra-long term plans note that this will likely leave Military Circle as a major pillar of the city’s economy in the decades to come.
Ryan Murphy, 757-739-8582, firstname.lastname@example.org