A sold out crowd was a record breaker, with more than 1,200 business and community leaders in attendance to hear Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim provide an update on the city’s key business development initiatives, municipal progress updates and opportunities.
Mayors have traditionally included some good natured competition with their fellow municipal leaders in their State of the City addresses, citing advances and successes within their city. The good natured fun trickles down to Chamber’s individual city boards, but stress that strong cities make a stronger region.
Susan Long-Molnar, Chair of the Chamber’s Norfolk division and President of Managing Communications Consulting, provided the welcoming remarks. She was thrilled with the huge turn-out.
“We always kind of get an advantage because we are first, but I don’t think that’s it, I think it’s just because it’s Norfolk and the businesses are engaged in the development and growth of Norfolk and the Mayor always does such a good job,” said Long-Molnar.
Bryan K. Stephens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce announced, “This is the 20th year the Chamber has had the pleasure of hosting the Mayor’s State of the City address. Mayor Fraim, thank you for your leadership and that of the council to make Norfolk an exceptional, progressive, and visionary community in the region and the Commonwealth.”
Mayor Fraim shared some of Norfolk’s greatest accolades.
“Norfolk was the first municipality in the State certified as a Virginia Values Veterans employer, meaning the city met its pledge to hire and retain veterans, and last year, was the first to receive Gold Level certification,” said Fraim.
He explained that the city's economy continued on a positive growth trajectory in 2014, as did the population. Conversely, Norfolk’s crime dropped 3 percent continuing a decade-long trend which Fraim credited to Michael Goldsmith, Chief of Police and his officers. Unemployment, has also fallen, to 5.9 percent down from 6.3 percent last year, the lowest rate since 2008.
Beyond the numbers, Fraim credited Norfolk as a city with a great quality of life, offering much to its citizens.
“The opening of Slover Library and the new Norfolk courthouse in January made this New Year one of the best,” said Fraim. “From architecture to special features, like a children's library and unique public spaces, the Slover is a masterpiece that artfully combines modern and classical design."
He continued, “After decades of planning and three years of construction, the city's new courthouse opened on January 24. Funded over nine separate budgets, it's the largest investment ever made by Norfolk in a public building. It's a magnificent facility that brings the circuit and general district courts under one roof and includes modern security measures and the first paperless court clerk's record room in the Commonwealth.”
Phase II will begin this spring on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and law library. This also includes rebuilding the civic center plaza and bringing Main Street across St. Paul’s Boulevard. Fraim said, “The total project comes in at 315,000 square feet, making it the biggest building ever built by the city.”
Construction is also well underway on The Main – a 22-story Hilton Hotel – and in The Exchange – a state-of-the-art 105,000 square foot conference center. Fraim said, “When it opens less than two years from now, The Main will move Norfolk into a top-tier choice for business and leisure travelers and enable us to attract a wide variety of conferences. It will also add 400 new jobs downtown.”
This spring, the Cordish Company begins work on $40 million in improvements transforming Waterside. Scheduled for a Summer 2016 opening, “Waterside Live,”, will create hundreds of new jobs, bring more energy downtown and will generate millions of dollars of revenue to the city over the next 30 years.
According to Fraim, the Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center marked one of its busiest seasons on record in the Fall of 2014. “With Carnival Cruise Lines' announcement that the Carnival Splendor – a modern 3,000 passengers ship– will be sailing from Norfolk this spring and fall, this season will be even better,” said Fraim. “We expect 19 ship calls bringing over 75,000 crew and passengers, for a total economic impact of $7.8 million.”
Also in development is the city’s work with the Simon Property Group which is set to develop a portion of Lake Wright Golf Course into a Premium Outlet Center.
“This is a $75 million dollar project that will bring 120 upscale shops to the city, create 300 construction jobs, 800 permanent jobs and return an estimated $4.2 million dollars annually in tax revenue,” said Fraim.
Construction is expected to commence this spring with a summer 2016 opening.
Other new projects in the city include the opening of the $18 million K&K Square shopping center and the remodeled Midtown Shopping Center. Mayor Fraim also announced that in December, Bon Secours cut the ribbon on DePaul Medical Office Plaza, a $25 million dollar investment in the city's health care system.
Shifting gears from development to transportation, the mayor underscored that the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission (HRTAC) identified nine regional transportation projects totaling approximately $8.6 billion dollars in 2014 – among them, the widening of I-64 on the Peninsula, preliminary work to replace the High-Rise Bridge, rebuilding the I-64/I-264 interchange and funding to update an environmental study for construction of Patriots Crossing, half of the Third Crossing project.
Norfolk was the first Hampton Roads city to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless, and by this time next year, it is anticipated their second development - Church Street Station - will be under construction.
Boasted Fraim, “Its 40 units will bring the region's number of Single Room Occupancy units to 320 – an impressive achievement considering none existed nine years ago. We are also committed to helping our homeless veterans, and since 2007 have reduced their numbers by 58 percent.”
Fraim concluded his speech stating, “Norfolk is an amazing place, a vibrant and historic port city where culturally diverse citizens, the military, and businesses are creating the most dynamic and authentic urban waterfront community in America. I'm proud to say that the state of this old seaport city is strong and the future looks bright."
Mark Barth, Chief Information Officer for Goodwill and one of the Chamber’s trustees, was enthusiastic about the event finding it to be a strategic way to renew old acquaintances and meet new business connections.
“This was a fantastic event,” said Barth. “I was thrilled to hear the great news of the City of Norfolk. (Goodwill) hopes to partner with the city, helping to place people to employment and help achieve our mission,” adding that, “Attending the State of the City events is a great way to establish relationships with leaders in the community and those relationships are invaluable to conducting business and just the improvement of everything you are doing in the community.”
Thank you to series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting); Newtown Building Supplies (Building the Future Partner); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum); GEICO (Gold); Cox (Media); and Sentara Optima Health Plan (Silver).
Join the Chamber for the remaining State of the City events taking place through May. For more information and to register, visit Events.HamptonRoadsChamber.com.