By Barrett Baker
Collected here are some highlights of relevant news and information (available as of press time) from local cities and counties including pandemic response measures.
Mayor Richard “Rick” West provided the 2020 Chesapeake State of the City Address on Feb. 28, 2020, explaining that to understand the state of the city today, citizens must understand the history of what has brought Chesapeake to where it is now. Referring to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and the British defeat at Yorktown, he said, “We can all be inspired by the brave men and women who fought for those freedoms and gave so much to the changing world: ordinary people willing to rise up and refusing to throw away their shot.”
- All 46 of Chesapeake’s public schools recently achieved full accreditation. A comprehensive study is currently underway to look at school facility needs for today and the future.
- Researchers from Old Dominion University, as part of an annual survey on Coastal Virginia, found that Chesapeake residents ranked their quality of life as the highest in the region.
- Capital investments in the past year rose by more than $270 million, an increase of 12%. Four hundred and fifty-five new businesses joined the Chesapeake community, adding nearly 1,700 jobs. The city recognizes that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a devastating impact on local businesses and employees and hopes economic growth will continue once people return to work.
- Total Fiber Recovery is investing $49 million in a new paper recycling operation that will process 300,000 tons of mixed paper annually.
- com ranked Chesapeake as one of the best cities in America for Women in the Tech Industry.
Emergency Services moves forward with innovative programs.
The Chesapeake Fire Department has developed an innovative program called Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH), which includes sub programs such as:
- The Multi-Visit Patient (MVP) Program that supports citizens who have called 911 more than four times in a calendar year
- The Fall Prevention Program for Chesapeake residents at risk for falls, featuring a team of MIH professionals who conduct fall-risk assessments and address safety hazards
- The Mobile Care Clinic supporting Chesapeake’s high-risk and medically underserved communities in partnership with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare and Healthy Chesapeake
- The Refusal of Care Follow-Up Program risk reduction initiative to initiate patient contact within 24 hours of EMS transport refusal to assess for worsening conditions
The Chesapeake Police Department is giving back to the community through their Serve the City program, which provides volunteers from the faith-based community to conduct home renovations for those in need.
The Sheriff’s Office contributes to the quality of life of all Chesapeake citizens through their Children Today, Leaders Tomorrow and Senior Support Seminar programs.
Summit Pointe offers a new mixed-use destination.
Located in the Greenbrier section of Chesapeake, Summit Pointe is a 69-acre, mixed-use community that offers premier office space, urban living, restaurants, entertainment and shops. Mayor Rick West called Summit Pointe “…the beginning of a new downtown Chesapeake.” The project represents a $300 million investment that will evolve over phases. Phase One included the completion of Dollar Tree’s high-rise office tower and campus that will serve 2,300 employees. Phase two includes the first living units as well as retail and office space.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
The City of Chesapeake has developed a COVID-19 Business Resource page to provide local businesses with everything they need to reopen their businesses. The page includes valuable resources, including a Hospitality Reopening Toolkit, a Retail Reopening Toolkit, a Review-Reopen-Recover Guide and Checklist, a Webinar Series and Recordings on “Comeback Planning,” a COVID-19 PPE Retooling Playbook, a Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act, COVID-19 Safety for Essential Businesses and CDC Workplace Guidance on COVID 19.
Norfolk’s State of the City address scheduled for April 17, 2020 was postponed. However, in his 2019 State of the City speech, Mayor Kenneth Alexander stated that “Norfolk is the driver of growth and competitiveness in Hampton Roads, the leading provider of higher-paying jobs and higher education, a major international trade and transportation hub, and the center for arts and culture.”
- Since 2016, there has been a 31% reduction in violent crimes in the City of Norfolk.
- Approximately 30,000 students attend Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) each year, 67% of those schools are accredited and the school division continues to make gains. The division turnaround effort is focusing on leadership, literacy, academic rigor and innovation.
- Two Norfolk Public Schools—Mary Calcott and Tarrallton Elementary Schools—were awarded the Purple Star Award in 2019. The Virginia Purple Star Designation is awarded to military-friendly schools that have demonstrated a major commitment to students and families connected to the nation’s military.
The ever-changing landscape in Norfolk.
Norfolk city leaders approved construction of two buildings in the plan to redevelop the Saint Paul’s neighborhood. Construction of “Block 19” and “Block 20” will provide 190 multi-income units for seniors and families thanks to a $30 million grant awarded to the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2021.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe came to an agreement with the City to build a waterfront resort casino. The agreement allows the tribe to build and operate a resort casino on 13.4 acres of land on the east side of Harbor Park. The development is expected to have a significant positive financial impact for the city through the creation of construction and permanent jobs and millions of visitors annually. The resort and casino will include a four-diamond convention hotel, several onsite restaurants, a luxury spa, an entertainment venue, and indoor and outdoor pools.
Norfolk is expanding its cruise line activities to include its largest port of call contract to date in terms of passenger. The UK-based cruise line company, Marella, is dedicating nine port-of-call stops in Norfolk, translating to an additional 17,000 visitors annually. The contract is expected to begin in 2021, once travel restrictions have been released and consumer confidence returns.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
Norfolk staff COVID-19 Response Teams include:
- Business Recovery Tools Team
- Outreach & Business Intelligence Team
- Regional Business Recovery Task Force for COVID-19
- Norfolk Works Workforce Team – Resident Support for COVID-19
The Norfolk Development Facebook page has been frequently updated with important information. There are also a number of resources and links on the NorfolkDevelopment.com website under COVID-19 updates.
The Portsmouth State of the City address scheduled for May 1, 2020 was postponed. Mayor John Rowe’s office will announce when the event will be rescheduled once it is safe to hold public meetings.
The Operating and Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal year 2021 was proposed by the Office of the City Manager on March 23, 2020. Some adjustments will most likely be made in order to offset the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the gist of the proposal is to review city services, programs and initiatives to determine which ones need adjustments. As was the case with past proposed plans, the budget team strove to deliver a strategic budget process that looks for efficiencies as well as opportunities to increase and maximize Portsmouth’s commercial base and strengthen revenue.
- Churcland High School, a Portsmouth Public School, earned “Best High School” honors based on a ranking released by U.S. News & World Report in April 2020. The U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best High Schools list numerically ranked nearly 18,000 schools nationwide. According to U.S. News, the highest-ranked U.S. public schools in the rankings are those whose attendees demonstrated outstanding outcomes above expectations in math and reading state assessments, passed a diverse array of college-level exams and graduated in high proportions.
Making the most of riverfront access.
Portsmouth is making plans to increase the vitality of its Elizabeth River frontage by moving current government buildings, such as City Hall and Police Headquarters, inland. The move, called the Crawford Gateway Revitalization Strategy, would allow for the development of the waterfront area by adding a 200-unit apartment complex.
Portsmouth Police launch a new personal safety initiative.
Called the “Whistle Your Way to Safety” initiative, Portsmouth Police are providing citizens with free whistles they can blow if they feel threatened or they want to alert others in the area that they need help or police intervention. The Portsmouth Police Department has already started implementing the initiative at ACTION (Apartments and Cops Together In Our Neighborhoods), the Chief of Police’s Forum and “Faiths Behind the Badge” meetings. Public education will be communicated through regular community and civic group meetings, in addition to social media posts and a video campaign.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
The country’s marine transportation system is critical to national security and economic vitality. Because of this, the Port of Virginia (POV) marine terminals and facilities are categorized as critical infrastructure. As such, all POV terminals are, and will continue, to operate at full capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their critical cargo initiative will continue to be in operation for as long as necessary to ensure COVID-19 tests and medical supplies get to the areas they’re needed most.
The State of the City Address, originally scheduled to be delivered by Mayor Linda Johnson on April 21, 2020, was postponed. The 2020 address will be rescheduled after conditions from the COVID-19 pandemic have been deemed safe. In the meantime, City Council remains focused on economic development as Suffolk will continue to invite national companies to find a home there. They are also continuing to target their Downtown Initiatives Master Plan to continually develop the downtown area.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Suffolk has recorded a steady population increase every year since 2012. It is the only locality in Coastal Virginia projected to grow 10% or more in each decade between 2000 and 2040.
- Local operating funds for public education have increased by more than $10 million since 2013, including $4 million for fiscal year 2019.
- For the 14th straight year, the City of Suffolk’s 2019 National Night Out event was named in the Top 5 in the nation among communities with a population of 50,000 to 100,000 residents by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW). Thousands of individual citizens, neighborhoods, civic groups, businesses, city employees and city public safety personnel gathered to celebrate and say no to crime.
Unique educational programs gain Suffolk Public Schools grants.
Suffolk Public Schools has been awarded a $10,000 state competitive grant to expand its student engineering competition—Sea, Air, Land (SeAL) Challenge.
The Virginia Department of Education STEM grant funding was available to schools where at least 40% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The purpose of the STEM Competition Team Grant Initiative is to increase awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among teachers and students through STEM-related, problem/project-based, team-building activities.
For two years, Suffolk Public Schools is the host division for the (SeAL) Challenge for middle and high school students. The SeAL Challenge is a program in which teams of middle and high school students design and build robotic vehicles and payloads to compete in underwater, air or land courses.
Four Suffolk elementary school teachers also recently each received $500 mini-grants through the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom program. Statewide, grant projects will provide 25,000 children and youth with an agriculture or gardening experience. Projects include topics such as gardening, careers, animal agriculture and leadership development.
Agriculture in the Classroom is a national program that promotes greater understanding of agriculture through education. The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom is a nonprofit organization that receives financial and administrative support from the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
In response to the rapidly changing economic climate with COVID-19, Suffolk Economic Development Department has created an online resource aimed to support job seekers.
The new online directory, found on the YesSuffolk.com homepage, features Suffolk and surrounding area businesses who are currently hiring and looking to fill open positions. Special emphasis is placed on job openings that are entry-level and above.
The Department is now actively encouraging the Greater Suffolk business community to supply current employment status information. The information will populate the directory tool, which will be updated regularly.
During his second annual State of the City Address, Mayor Robert M. “Bobby” Dyer highlighted key accomplishments and initiatives taking place in districts throughout the city, provided project updates, addressed challenges and opportunities in the city, and gave a glimpse into the city’s future. He highlighted the incredible compassion and commitment people have shown following the May 31 tragedy, noting that “we are forever changed.”
- In the most recent citizen satisfaction survey, 93% of respondents said Virginia Beach is a good place to live; nine in 10 are satisfied with city services overall; nearly eight in 10 believe they receive a good value for their tax dollar; 81% were satisfied with job opportunities in Virginia Beach.
- In 2019, Virginia Beach’s unemployment rate reached a low 2.4%, adding 5,000 jobs, and the labor force grew by 4,200 people. Even as many businesses and individuals have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, City representatives are hopeful that the job market will be robust again in the near future.
- In 2020, Virginia Beach’s Corporate Landing Business Park (163 acres) and the Virginia Beach Innovation Park in the Landstown corridor (155 acres) will soon meet the Tier 4 standards for the Commonwealth’s Business Ready Sites Program.
Virginia Beach is competing with the likes of Nashville, Memphis, Austin and Raleigh
Virginia Beach competes with more than other beach communities for people’s leisure time and spending. The city also competes for conventions and visitors looking for authentic new experiences. The Virginia Beach Sports Center will open this fall. Paid for with Tourism Investment Program funds, it is estimated the city will host more than 60 new events a year, stimulating nearly an additional $10 million in annual economic activity.
At the former Dome site, Atlantic Park will transform a cluster of parking lots into a year-round destination with something for everyone, including a state-of-the-art surf park, a 3,500-person live entertainment venue, and new-to-market retail and restaurants, in addition to office and residential components. Local business, Venture Realty, and strategic partner, Pharrell Williams, should begin initial site work as early as next year.
Virginia Beach is committed to improving resiliency against sea level rise and recurrent flooding.
Virginia Beach is now part of the FEMA/National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, which allows residents and businesses to save 15% on flood insurance premiums due to the city’s efforts to go beyond basic requirements to mitigate flooding.
More than half the funding for the program is aimed at flood control across the city. In addition, there is funding for maintenance of the city’s storm water pipe infrastructure and for water quality projects created to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.
COVID-19 Response and Recovery
- The City of Virginia Beach continues to monitor and adjust to changing conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The City Treasurer’s Office is offering businesses an option to defer payment of trust taxes without penalties. Trust taxes include taxes on meals, lodging and admissions.
- Economic Development has created a Resilience Toolkit, in partnership with ODU’s Women’s Leadership Center, to offer technical assistance to small businesses—YesVirginiaBeach.com
- On April 7, the Virginia Beach City Council approved ordinances to suspend late payment penalties and interest for failure to pay real estate and personal property taxes from the date prescribed in the City Code until Aug. 1, 2020.