Virginia Beach’s Bad Habit: Reckless Spending on Wasteful Projects

by Kerry Dougherty

Feckless leadership, wasteful spending and escalating taxes have plagued Virginia Beach for decades.

Despite new faces on city council, the game of spending tax dollars on insane projects that “will pay for themselves” continues.

But let’s back up.

Here’s one prescient story from The Virginian-Pilot in 2007. The headline: “Virginia Beach Sportsplex Misses Its Goal” soft pedaled what was going on. It was yet another pricey project, dreamed up by developers and approved by their political puppets.

And it was failing.

No one expected it. Advance ticket sales were meager. But on game night, a traffic jam developed on Princess Anne Road. Crowds lined up at the ticket windows.

By game time, more than 7,000 enthusiastic fans had turned out for an exhibition soccer match between D.C. United and the Hampton Roads Mariners.

Mayor Meyera Oberndorf, one of the stadium’s biggest supporters, was justifiably proud. “This just proves it’s true,” she said that night. “If you build it, they will come.”

But that was nine years ago: July 6, 1998.

The Sportsplex never again sold out for soccer….

From the start, they imagined the Sportsplex as a kind of local Yankee Stadium.

It was a dream born of frustration. For years, the region had pursued major league sports. Baseball, basketball, hockey – all were wooed. All failed.

Some Virginia Beach residents wondered: What about soccer? Norfolk had a corner on indoor sports with Scope. Could Virginia Beach be an outdoor-sports mecca?

Thousands of suburban kids played soccer in Virginia Beach every weekend. Maybe those kids would pay to watch the pros. Maybe their parents would pay.

Maybe the minor league Mariners could graduate to Major League Soccer.

Maybe all they needed was a stadium.

The Mariners fed that dream. The team’s owners said they could move to the major leagues in five years, given the right stadium.

“Having a stadium would put us in a whole new light,” Mariners co-owner Page Johnson said in 1996. “If we can bring Major League Soccer here, it would be a great thing for promoting Virginia Beach.”

The city bit the bait.

The vote was 9-1. Only Reba McClanan said no.

“I was never really sure that the people who were handling it – council people and staff people – ever really had a handle on it,” McClanan recently said.

But she was alone. Everyone else at City Hall had a case of soccer fever.

Not everyone in TOWN had soccer fever, though. I didn’t have it. In fact, I used my metro column in The Virginian-Pilot to lobby against this fool’s errand. In 2007, when my dire predictions came true I wrote this:

A decade ago, soccer enthusiasts pressured Beach City Hall to spend about $11 million on a Sportsplex to lure a pro soccer team to town. We all know how well that worked out.

Virginia Beach learned an expensive lesson: Never let kids in satin shorts set public policy.

Those who still read The Virginian-Pilot learned this weekend that taxpayers continue to pump money into the money-hemorrhaging Sportsplex.

That boondoggle requires $1.16 million in tax dollars immediately to pay its bills. City council votes tomorrow to approve the funds.

Any doubt that’ll be a winner? After all, it’s not THEIR money. It’s ours.

If only that was the lone failed big-ticket project that the numbskulls on city council fell for.

It isn’t.

The 18-year-old convention center continues to run a $2 million a year deficit and the Sandler Center is coming up $463,000 short annually. Not to mention the money-losing TPC golf course, which the city off-loaded a few years ago.

They’re not done.

City Council members are considering wasting even MORE money – this time on a hotel adjacent to the convention center – because the usual snake-oil salesmen are telling them that will rescue the convention center.

Will anyone be honest and admit that convention centers are going the way of shopping malls?

Shoot, why not wave the white flag and turn it into a giant pickle ball court?

Now it’s not kids in satin shorts driving public policy, it’s star-struck adults under the spell of a millionaire hip-hop artist. They’ve persuaded city council members to dump about $100 million of public money into a partnership with Pharrell Williams to build a surf park.

Two blocks from the beach.

Meanwhile, the master gas-lighters on city council have been lying to the public for months, bragging that they didn’t raise real estate taxes this year to underwrite this colossal waste.


In May, the council actually raised the tax rate to where it was last year, while assessments jumped an average of 9% – meaning tax hikes for all! It’s worth noting that in some cases (mine, for instance) the increase in home values was 20% or more.

Here’s a prediction: in 10 years those who can still afford to live in Virginia Beach will be scratching their heads and wondering how they were bamboozled into spending so much public money on a nutty surf park.

I will get no pleasure out of writing yet another I-told-you-so piece.

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.