big boxes filling, but there's still work to be done [Virginian - Pilot]
(Virginian - Pilot Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By Stacy Parker
sign that the Great Recession's impact on Virginia Beach has turned a corner, several "big box" stores that were vacant for years are gaining new life. And the city's Department of Economic Development is riding the retail wave with a fresh marketing package.
"Virginia Beach Retail" is a new iBook that was published at the end of July. It's currently only available for viewing on an iPad.
The iBook touts the city's appealing demographics and quality of life, while pitching opportunities at existing or future shopping centers.
Research shows the tablet is the most popular mobile device used by the economic department's audience, which includes national retailers who are eyeing the area. Included in the marketing plan are the recent upticks in retail sales at Whole Foods and Target, two chains that opened stores in the city in October 2012.
Those stores' sales numbers have far exceeded expectations, according to Michelle Chapleau, business development manager for the city. Using them as examples of success is helping woo clients and launch negotiations.
Some of the themes of the marketing push are "Virginia Beach is booming," and "Virginia Beach is an affluent city and it shows."
There are several recent examples of a rebound.
Wal-Mart announced a new store at Virginia Beach Boulevard at Kellam Road. Kroger Marketplace, a $25 million project, opened at the former Super Kmart site on Holland Road last month. The former Bloom Brothers Furniture Store on Virginia Beach Boulevard will be renovated and occupied by a gun store and shooting range early next year.
Some of the properties had been vacant for several years.
At Lynnhaven Mall, extensive interior renovations are underway. Discussions between General Growth Properties, which operates the mall, the city's Economic Development Department and a national retailer new to the Virginia Beach market are in the works to the fill the vacancy that Lord & Taylor left in 2005, Chapleau said. An announcement may be imminent, she added.
However, not all of the Beach's vacant big boxes are filled yet.
The former Ames building at 2866 Virginia Beach Blvd., near Kings Grant, continues to serve as a reminder that the economy is not yet fully recovered, as does the former Giant Square shopping center site and the former Home Quarters building, both on Independence Boulevard.
Lowe's owns the former Giant Square property at 717 Independence Blvd., where a concrete slab is a reminder of the demolished shopping center. The company decided not to move forward with store development in 2009. The site is currently listed for sale.
Mixed-use development - residences, offices and retail shops - could be feasible at some of those sites, said Barry Frankenfield, Strategic Growth Area manager. One exception is the former Ames site. Residential development is not compatible with the city's zoning ordinance, which follows Oceana Naval Air Station's safety recommendations.
The former HQ building could remain "as is" with a new tenant, but prospective developers who may want to tear it down will need to follow new regulations for Town Center and its surrounding areas, also known as the Central Business District Core, that could go to the council for approval in November or December.
"The new zoning will affect that only when somebody wants to tear down and rebuild," said Ashby Moss, planning evaluation coordinator for the city.
A site plan for a strip shopping center in front of the former HQ building is currently being reviewed, said Moss.
At a public meeting Aug.?15, city officials discussed the new guidelines, which include situating building facades close to the street to provide a walkable streetscape and urban ambience.
Frankenfield said the goal is to maximize the real estate on a street front. It also eliminates the possibility of empty parking lots lining a main thoroughfare, which doesn't bode well for economic development.
Aesthetics, too, play a part.
"Bringing buildings closer to the street is more interesting," said Frankenfield.
Stacy Parker, 222-5125, email@example.com
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