Slow down, Norfolk

slow-down1I’m not sure what the rush is to sign an agreement to build a hotel-conference center in Norfolk. I mean – it’s not as if we haven’t already waited ten years for other things to happen, most notably for the market to improve. Tomorrow, Council will hold a public hearing, followed by a vote on the deal. Meanwhile, we – the taxpayers of Norfolk – know very little about the deal, except what has been reported in the paper. This article, for example, was published just three days ago and was the first notice that our contribution had gone up another $2.5 million.

I found this interesting:

Fraim noted that the council has been briefed in closed session on the negotiations since September. The public hearing and vote scheduled for Tuesday are not legally required because the city long ago transferred the property to the housing authority, he said.

If the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority officially owns the property, then why is all of the conversation about how much money the council is allocating to the developer? Shouldn’t this be characterized as money being given to NHRA? (Note that the public hearing info refers to this as “PUBLIC HEARING scheduled this day, public notice having been inserted in the local press by the City Clerk, to hear comments on the Master Development Agreement to be entered into with Professional Hospitality Resources, Inc., and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (“NRHA”), and authorizing the conveyance of the property that is the subject of the Master Development Agreement to NRHA.”)

Council approval is, however, required so the project can benefit from a 2-year-old state program. A Tourism Development Grant would allow the developer to use future sales tax revenue to repay some of the debt on the hotel.

That simply cannot be the only reason for council approval. There has to be more to this; otherwise, why the closed sessions since September? Why the short notice on the public meeting? And why haven’t the citizens been provided a copy of the 117-page agreement?

Way too many questions, far too few answers. At least Councilman Tommy Smigiel will attempt to address them at his town hall meeting tonight (7pm, Crossroads Recreational Center). But we should all get a chance to learn about and weigh in on this deal. (I’m going to try to make tonight’s meeting but can’t do tomorrow’s due to my teaching schedule.)

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2 thoughts on “Slow down, Norfolk

  1. Thanks for diggin’ around in this mess, Vivian. While you’re at it, what is Norfolk City Council doing with the cruise ship facility they built, just before that industry went sour in Norfolk? Is any use being made of the building? And what’s gonna happen that’s new in the waterside area of Norfolk that will attract tourists and residents down there? The developer Thompson has apparently had success in Virginia Beach because people are still coming to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean–as they’ve done for 75 years, but what does Norfolk have to offer on a Saturday afternoon in June to draw folks to Waterside Drive? A visit by City Council to the harbor in Annapolis might be both informative and inspiring. Last I heard it was a fun destination for all kinds of boat people–sail, power and whatever, and the night life was built on good food and drink and safety. Same was true three years ago in Charleston, SC, where we spent the night and caught a cruise ship to the Bahamas. But it seems these successful portside pleasures didn’t just happen–there was planning and innovation and leadership–not just “build it, they will come”–that doesn’t work anymore.

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