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Like it or not, all agree billion development proposal is huge

© December 22, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH – A billion proposal to build skyscrapers, hotels and condos at the Oceanfront and a massive golf resort near City Hall has left many business leaders and residents stunned.

The plan by a South Korean company includes more than 3,800 condominiums, 1,500 hotel rooms and seven towers soaring up to 40 stories high.

"This is like Hampton Roads attracting a major league sports franchise," said James Koch, an Old Dominion University economist. "Economically speaking, it might be a great thing or may not amount to anything at all."

The size of the proposal by Sun Rise Development Co. Ltd., which covers more than 64 acres at the former Dome site, Rudee Loop, the Convention Center and the Tournament Players Club of Virginia Beach, surpasses any proposal the city has seen in years.

"The scale of it is enormous," said Deborah Stearns, managing director of the Norfolk office of GVA Advantis real estate company.

Virginia Beach’s Town Center had an overall master plan but "unfolded one piece at a time," Stearns said. The Korean proposal includes many more pieces, all unveiled in a single swoop.

"I can’t recall another announcement that would have that many square feet and that many developments proposed at one time," she said.

Bruce Thompson, chief executive officer of Gold Key/PHR Hotels and Resorts, said Virginia Beach may be ripe for such a project, and he said few properties are as attractive as the ones Sun Rise has selected.

It was only a matter of time before a major national or international company "came to Virginia Beach and recognized what we’ve known all along," Thompson said. "This is the best beach on the East Coast."

But Thompson also raised his eyebrows at the cost of the proposal.

"We have a half-billion dollars in real estate at the Oceanfront," he said. "I know how long it took us to develop a half a billion."

Thompson said he was surprised that a project this big materialized without local property owners and developers knowing about it.

Don Maxwell, the city’s economic development director, said he is confident in the company’s ability to deliver on its proposals, even though little is known about Sun Rise.

Still, the cost of the project to taxpayers is unknown.

The city probably would have to build roads and hire more police for the Oceanfront, Koch said. The city also risks losing its largest employer – the Navy – in the process, he added.

The Navy is unlikely to support towering buildings right under the paths of jets from Oceana Naval Air Station.

The federal government already has threatened to move jets out of Virginia Beach because of development near Oceana, and other states would be happy to host them, said U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, who represents Virginia Beach.

"I don’t think this plan meets the Navy’s needs at all," Drake said. "And the important thing is that when the Navy says this doesn’t work, they take it very seriously."

Drake said city officials should consider all development proposals but must include the Navy in discussions from the start. City officials told Oceana leaders about the Sun Rise plans Wednesday, after it was made public.

Ellis Hinnant-Will, an Oceanfront resident and civic leader, worries that the plan would transform Virginia Beach into a city in the style of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with its tall hotels.

"I really can’t believe that we would really consider something like this," Hinnant-Will said.

Still, Sun Rise’s proposal could draw visitors who had never considered Virginia Beach before, said Brad Garner, who has studied Virginia Beach as vice president of Smith Travel Research, a tourism consulting company in Hendersonville, Tenn.

While Virginia Beach has more demand for hotel space than supply, Sun Rise would have to tap entirely new markets for visitors – particularly if it sought travelers from Asia – to fill the rooms it has proposed, he said.

The company would have to create a draw akin to Walt Disney World, Garner said.

"They’ve got to bring the entertainment component with it. They’ve got to bring the food and beverage component with it," he said. "They’ve got to bring the whole package with them."

The city also needs more condominiums along the Oceanfront, said Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson, a real estate agent who handles property at the resort.

"People want to be at the Oceanfront and want to be on the Boardwalk," Wilson said. "It’s all about the view."

Still, Wilson said, Sun Rise’s proposal needs more review. "Is it the right fit?" she asked. "We don’t know."

Staff writer Richard Quinn contributed to this report.

Reach Deirdre Fernandes at (757) 222-5121 or Reach Carolyn Shapiro at (757) 446-2270 or

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