Good afternoon. I want to sincerely welcome all of you here today and thank you for joining us. It’s my privilege — and a tremendous honor — to serve as mayor of what I consider to be the finest city in the world! Yes, the world!
I’d like to begin by thanking my family at home — my lovely wife, Bev, and our three daughters . . . as well as my Towne Bank family, for all the support and encouragement you give me on a daily basis.
I would also like to thank the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, and the sponsors for organizing and supporting this annual event.
I stand before you today having completed my first year in office, and what a year it’s been! Make no mistake — we are facing some serious challenges, and how we respond to them will mark our destiny. But I am more convinced than ever that our destiny is great — the vision driving it, inspired… and the leadership, steadfast.
How did we come to such a position of strength? It didn’t happen overnight. The ideas and ideals of the leaders who came before me were grand and, some would say, audacious. But the results are truly phenomenal. Let me pause for a few moments to paint the picture of where we stand today — a place of great achievement, and even greater promise.
ü Virginia Beach is home to some of the best companies in the world!
Consider the impressive success of Amerigroup, which has been a terrific community partner for 15 years. The only publicly held corporation headquartered in Virginia Beach, Amerigroup is on the verge of cracking into the Fortune 500! Amerigroup — we’re very grateful for your commitment to our city and region. You are a model corporate citizen. Thanks to Jim Carlson and his wonderful staff!
Consider STIHL, an outstanding and innovative partner since 1974, with its North American headquarters in the Oceana West Corporate Park. How we enjoy working with everyone at Stihl…. And we continue to see growth opportunities from this long-term partnership.
Without a doubt, good things are happening here…. According to Forbes.com, our region ranked fourth in a survey of metropolitan areas where incomes for educated workers are growing fastest!
What makes Virginia Beach such a hot spot? Let’s hear from Ralph Reynolds, creative director and vice president of RP55 Group…
[Video Featuring Ralph Reynolds of RP55: I moved here in ’89 and I just wanted to get out of New York and go somewhere where I could pursue my dreams… Most of the people I have working for me have worked for me for many years. They want to be a part of something that’s growing and stay a part of it. As opposed to a quick move from here to there. That I attribute to the Virginia Beach lifestyle. I can recommend with a clear and full heart that Virginia Beach is a place where your business can grow and your family can thrive. This is a good place to do both.]
Yes—I agree that the Virginia Beach lifestyle is irresistible!
Global corporations see Virginia Beach as a great place to locate, expand and consolidate their businesses. Geico, with its regional headquarters at Corporate Landing, is a great example. It’s one of the city’s largest private employers with 2,200 workers at the headquarters building. Let me put that in perspective: That’s triple the number of people in this room today! And the company is still growing! Last year, Geico added 85 jobs at the regional headquarters. This coming year, Geico plans to add another 110 new jobs here. Thank you, Joe Thomas and Geico, for putting your faith in our city.
Avis currently has 420 jobs in Virginia Beach, including those that joined our community last year when 70 new full-time positions were added at its National Shared Services Center in the Centre Point Office Park. Those new jobs were relocated to Virginia Beach from Orlando, and Virginia Beach successfully competed against Parsippany, New Jersey for the Avis Budget Group project.
Today, I’m formally announcing that Avis has decided to relocate 100 senior management positions from New Jersey to Virginia Beach. The bulk of these jobs are being created for our Hampton Roads region, and those jobs will average $70,000 a year excluding benefits. What an impressive testimony to the value of our quality of life. What a strong boost for our economy! Would Avis Human Resources Director Marla Blume please stand up and let us recognize you.
ü Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads have the best military installations in the world!
Consider Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, now the biggest employer in Virginia Beach with more than 17,000 employees. It doesn’t stop there…. Plans call for the addition of 1,000 special ops members by 2012.
Consider Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy’s East Coast master jet base, its Dam Neck Annex, and the other military installations that are located in Virginia Beach, including members of special operations that are leading the War on Terror.
Will all members of the United States armed forces, and all veterans who are with us today, please stand and let us salute you?
God bless America, and may God bless the members of our armed forces.
I’d also like to give a very heartfelt thanks to Captain Bill Crow, Commander of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, who is retiring this month. Captain Crow has been an excellent steward of his facility, and a tremendous leader for the region. Under his guidance, Little Creek Amphibious Base and Fort Story Army Base were combined per the BRAC order into Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.
Captain Crow has also worked very diligently with the City on development plans for the Burton Station area, and other issues dealing with the military. Captain Crow — it has been a great honor to know you. We wish you fair winds and following seas. We are pleased that you plan to remain in Hampton Roads during your retirement, and I know there are great things in store for you.
ü Virginia Beach has some of the best and most innovative health care organizations in the world!
Consider LifeNet Health, a global bio-sciences company and leader in organ and tissue regeneration technology that saves lives and restores health. Since 1982, LifeNet Health has been headquartered in Virginia Beach and today employs more than 550 people. LifeNet Health has been a formidable supporter of our health care and bio-sciences cluster within Princess Anne Commons.
And what an unforgettable night we had in November when LifeNet Health brought Grammy Award-winning artist — and kidney transplant recipient — Natalie Cole to the beautiful Sandler Center for a special fundraiser that also featured the acclaimed Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
Drive through Princess Anne Commons and you’ll see that the region’s largest healthcare systems — Sentara and Bon Secours — are collaborating to build a hospital. You’ll see that Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has expanded.
ü Virginia Beach has some of the best City employees and volunteers in the world!
Consider Director of Public Utilities Tom Leahy, one of four employees who were recently inducted into the City Employees Hall of Fame. The Lake Gaston Pipeline Project became a reality due, in large part, to Tom’s dedication and hard work.
And a big thanks to all the volunteers who supported the Aquarium expansion and the opening of the “Restless Planet.” What a wonderful addition!
What a fantastic job our City Staff did last November, during the Veterans Day nor’easter. As I made my way through the city, I saw our City employees restoring power to sewer pump stations, and cleaning out drains in the dark and in the blinding wind and rain. I saw our Public Safety employees responding to calls 24/7.
I saw our City employees assisting at Sandbridge —working in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard on the grounded Crowley barge. City staff gave a repeat performance during the snow storm in February — working ’round the clock to keep the roads clear and our citizens safe and informed. Every employee did his or her part to get us through both storms — it was teamwork at its best.
Speaking of teamwork, I can’t say enough about the men and women of Virginia Task Force 2, the spectacular search and rescue team — based in Virginia Beach — that was deployed to Haiti following the devastating earthquake. During this mission, they rescued two Haitian children who’d been trapped for nearly a week… and a Danish civil affairs officer. Will members of Virginia Task Force 2 who are with us today please rise.
Congratulations on a job well done, and thank you for your service!
And let’s give a round of applause to a leader who has been with us for almost two decades — Jim Spore, the best city manager in the country. Thank you, Jim, for all you do to make our city great.
ü Virginia Beach has some of the best schools in the world!
Six Virginia Beach public high schools — Cox, First Colonial, Kellam, Kempsville, Ocean Lakes and Princess Anne — were ranked among the top six percent of high schools in the country by Newsweek. The new Renaissance Academy is the first center of its kind in the nation, housing six alternative education programs and a museum commemorating the former African American school that once stood on the site.
Virginia Beach is the leader in per pupil expenditures in the region. We spend more on our schools than all other City services combined. Let’s continue putting our money where our mouth is. In the area of higher education, I’m thrilled that Tidewater Community College is expanding with two facilities, including its Regional Health Professions Center and soon, in partnership with the City, a library for students and lifelong learners. I’m proud that that Regent University has educated some of our brightest professionals, including Governor Bob McDonnell and more than 300 Teachers of the Year in Hampton Roads.
I’m pleased that Old Dominion and Norfolk State have a strong presence in Virginia Beach at the Higher Education Center in Princess Anne Commons. I’m elated that Virginia Beach is attracting new colleges, including South University and the Art Institute of Virginia Beach, and we welcome Dr. Carlos Campo to the presidency of Regent University.
Through its successful $53.5-million “Key to the Future” campaign that ended in December, Virginia Wesleyan College exceeded its ambitious goal achieving 104 percent — and in this economy! The Campaign — the largest and most successful in the history of Virginia Beach’s oldest college — focused on the most critical needs for attaining a prestigious Phi Beta Kappa designation.
I’m happy that the current draft of the Newtown Strategic Growth Area Plan features a beautiful campus for the ECPI College of Technology.
I’m delighted that five colleges and universities — Hampton University, Strayer University, the University of Phoenix, South University and the Art Institute of Virginia Beach — are located in Town Center. Virginia Beach and Town Center have become hubs for higher education. Thanks to everyone who has had a hand in this phenomenal success!
ü Virginia Beach has some of the best neighborhoods and the best Citizens in the world!
Consider the Reverend Doctor Michael G. Daniels of Enoch Baptist Church, who partnered with the City to engage 50 young people in a literacy-based summer camp in Western Bayside…. and who led the effort to open up school gymnasiums for youth in that area on weekends. What a shining example of cooperation between City Hall, City Schools, and our faith-based community. Thanks, Pastor Daniels!
There are so many examples — I wish I could mention them all today. The bottom line is that there’s no lack of talent here in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads. There are countless leaders who’ve contributed to the tremendous successes and quality of life we enjoy — many of whom are here today, and we’re driving it all home. Great companies, great health care, great partnerships, great schools, great people, great neighborhoods, the mightiest military operations in the world, and Virginia Beach continues to be one of the safest cities its size in the nation. Thank you to our police, fire and rescue personnel for everything you do.
There’s no doubt about it — we have a great thing going here in Virginia Beach!
I’m excited about our future! We now have a plan — developed with strong input from all segments of the community — for the Burton Station, Pembroke and Resort areas, and we’re working on plans for the Newtown Road area and the area between Oceana and Fentress. We’ve also identified four additional areas — Centerville, Rosemont, Lynnhaven and Hilltop — where we plan to channel future growth.
The City’s good reputation and strong financial practices continue to provide excellent results. Last year, Standard & Poor’s assigned its highest rating – AAA – to the city’s series 2009 general obligation bonds, and affirmed its AAA rating on existing general obligation debt. The agency cited the city’s strong local economy that — and I quote — “has proven to be highly resilient through various economic cycles.”
Standard & Poor’s also favorably noted the prospect of a light rail system in Virginia Beach’s future, as well as Town Center and other projects that have not only attracted new businesses and spin-offs, but provide employment opportunities beyond the traditional tourism and military sectors.” That is very important.
And yet, hard economic times have created gut-wrenching challenges and vulnerabilities for the economy, for Virginia Beach Families, for businesses, and for the City.
At month’s end, the Virginia Beach city manager will propose a budget for the coming fiscal year. Today, Virginia Beach has the lowest overall tax rates among large cities in Hampton Roads, and we are the lowest cost provider of services to the community. Our fees and charges for service are lower than most other cities.
And yet, did you know that this is the first time in our City’s 47-year history that real estate assessments have dropped two years in a row? That means we will have to continue covering last year’s shortfall on top of this year’s.
We will be challenged. We will have to trim some programs, and we may have to find some new revenue sources. As we work through these trying times, it’s my hope that we are able to preserve the high quality of life that we enjoy as Virginia Beach citizens.
Today, I would say to you that we’re at a crossroad. We’ve been at crossroads before, and we’ve learned some difficult lessons. Remember when the interstate highway system was being planned? Interstate 95 cut through Virginia, but Hampton Roads missed the opportunity to tap into this lifeline of goods, services and tourism when we first had the chance. We cannot let things like this happen again!
We’ve also enjoyed some important triumphs over the past two decades — lots of them.
A quarter-century ago, Virginia Beach residents and businesses were without a reliable source of water, and there were times when every household was limited to 50 gallons per person per day. City leaders came up with a plan to build a pipeline and deliver water from Lake Gaston. The idea met with fierce opposition every step of the way. Did we throw in the towel? No way! We stayed at it, and we kept on it, and we won.
Two decades ago, the Central Business District Association was pushing for the Pembroke area to be a center of financial, commercial, professional and cultural activities, and 10 years ago we broke ground on Town Center. Just look at her now!
Sixteen years ago, the city purchased 1,200 acres of Lake Ridge for $9.5 million. Some said it was too big; others, too expensive. But just look at Princess Anne Commons now — it’s a gem of an incubator for business, medicine, education, entertainment, and sports....including the Virginia Beach Field House, a huge indoor sports facility with indoor artificial turf fields, and a $1 million upgrade to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex – at no cost to the city!
Twenty years ago, Resort Advisory Commission members began a push for enhancements at the Oceanfront. Just look at it now! The ugly signs are gone and the overhead wires have been laid to rest. Our Virginia Beach Boardwalk is now recognized as one of 10 great public spaces in America. The Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau has booked a record number of hotel room nights for 2010.
This year, we will re-energize our efforts to attract a headquarters hotel to help underpin the great success of our Convention Center. And we continue to support the private initiative to redevelop the Dome site as a major entertainment center.
Twenty years ago, we recognized the need to modernize our schools, and I’m proud that the City Council has worked so hard to make funding available for schools. Since 1998, $468 million has been invested in school facilities. New schools have been built from scratch, and 22 of the oldest elementary schools have been fully modernized or replaced.
None of these things happened by chance. They are the result of deliberate, smart planning… and successful collaboration by visionaries who were fired up about the future.
Today, we’re approaching another critical crossing, and we have an urgent need to mold new models that are both affordable and sustainable. I’m asking you to think ahead….
Twenty years down the road, what will Virginia Beach be like? Will Virginia Beach and all of Hampton Roads have an effective transportation system, or will there be gridlock? Will we be on the cutting edge of new technologies that generate renewable energy and ensure continued economic vitality, or will we lose out to other regions that jumped on the opportunity before us?
If we don’t begin to pave the way … if we don’t set our priorities correctly and carefully today … if we don’t take those important first steps NOW, we’ll surely be left on the side of the road, and we simply cannot afford to make that mistake.
It’s time to stop talking and start doing! I’m ready, and I’m homing in on five areas:
First, while Virginia Beach is “home” to most of us here, we must think of Hampton Roads as “home base” and become more cohesive as a region. This way, we can join forces with our friends and neighbors in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, and the counties of Hampton Roads. This way, we will work together as never before to benefit all 1.6 million residents in our region.
Mayor Fraim — I look forward to our working together with other mayors and chairs to continue making good things happen in Hampton Roads!
Number 2 - In my opinion, ensuring that Hampton Roads is connected to the emerging national high speed rail network has to be one of the top priorities for the Commonwealth, for the region, and for Virginia Beach. Now that the Commonwealth has endorsed a higher speed rail route between Richmond and South Hampton Roads, it is critical that the construction of that corridor begin as soon as possible — and I thank the Honorable Thelma Drake for her support as director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation in helping to move this important project forward.
We have to look ahead and do something now about the gridlock on our roadways. In keeping the military, transportation is the key. We have a unique national asset — right here in Hampton Roads! Here we have the largest concentration of federal activities anywhere in the country outside of our nation’s capital. We house operations of 16 federal departments and agencies, including all five military services. We are home to the nation’s largest naval facility, and we provide the primary air defense of our nation’s capital, and homeland security to our port and sea coast.
For years, the military has endorsed light rail. Rear Admiral Mark S. Boensel, Commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, recently made the case that light rail is not only a means to reduce congestion… it’s not only a means to enhance safety… it’s not only for quality of life reasons. It also facilitates military readiness.
The key elements of our economy — the military, tourism and business travel — are all tied into a transportation system, and that’s why I believe such linkages are absolutely necessary to ensure the continued economic growth and competitiveness of the state’s urban centers.
Like the purchase of Lake Ridge 16 years ago, the purchase of the Norfolk Southern line is an important and strategic acquisition — one that will provide dependable, efficient and cost-effective transportation for future generations. The addition of a light rail spur to the airport and Naval Station Norfolk would be icing on the cake.
I recognize that we need to take a thoughtful and deliberative approach before any hard-and-fast decisions are made on transportation in Virginia Beach. The Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study currently under way by HRT will provide essential data toward that end.
Additionally, the City is working with the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement to bring citizens into an open, inclusive and productive conversation about broad transportation possibilities and challenges for the community.
Together, let’s move forward!
Number 3 – Virginia Beach has a diverse local economy that includes the military, agriculture and tourism, but there’s still room for growth. We are on the verge of yet another industrial revolution – green industry.
Last April, I created the Mayor’s Alternative Energy Task Force to position Virginia Beach and all of Hampton Roads as a leader in the movement toward a more sustainable and intelligent energy future. What we discovered is that the potential is as strong as the wind and as bright as the sun! We could be — we should be — the Silicon Valley of alternative energy! Working closely with Governor McDonnell and our legislators and other partners, we’re going to make it happen!
Many of the tools necessary to make green industry viable in Virginia Beach exist in our own backyard. Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads are ideally situated among all East Coast localities for wind development. We have outstanding wind resources, we have a robust electrical grid, and we have a trained workforce and the industrial capacity to build these facilities. As the East Coast hub for manufacturing, we could establish an $80-billion industry with more than 10,000 new jobs. This venture could generate enough electricity to power one million homes — about a third of all the homes in Virginia!
There are tremendous alternative energy and green opportunities ahead for all of Hampton Roads.
It’s time to stop the bureaucracy and academia and move forward!
Number 4 – I whole-heartedly support the Navy’s efforts for a new outlying landing field to support carrier landing practice. With it, we could have more than 500 civilian jobs during the construction phase, leading to 60 permanent full-time civilian jobs. This is how we’re going to hold on to Oceana as the Navy’s East Coast master jet base and keep the economic impact it has on our region and the Commonwealth. And yes — I plan to pull out all the stops to keep all of our carriers here at home.
Let’s move forward!
Lastly, we need the FAA to work with us so that our hands are not tied by a 10-story building limit at the Oceanfront. Clearly, this is reasonable, this is rational, and this is right. For years, we have been authorized to build more than 110 feet above ground level. More than 35 resort area structures are already taller than 110 feet, and the FAA objected to none of them.
There’s a lot at stake here for the people of Virginia Beach and all of Hampton Roads. A 110-foot height restriction would mean massive losses in future tax revenues, in jobs, and in income. Over the next 50 years, the city could lose about $1.3 billion — and that’s not including forgone state revenues or income from wind energy.
Friends, I’m being realistic — this is a very conservative view. These are the facts.
I want to thank our congressional delegation for their support in this matter, and I’m pleased to note that through their efforts, we received notice that an assistant secretary of defense has been appointed as the single point of contact. He will deal with the many federal agencies involved in resolving this issue of building heights at the resort, as well as the very real possibility of wind turbines to be located 12 to 15 miles off our coast that may be in excess of 500 feet tall.
That being said, we fully understand that economic impacts are subordinate to national security, and we continue to work with the Defense Department and the FAA. I am confident that we will achieve a win-win solution.
For all of our achievements, I want to express my appreciation to our congressional and General Assembly delegations. Those individuals are vital to our success.
Finally, I’d like to thank my colleagues on the City Council, including our newest member, Rita Sweet Bellitto, who took office just last month, and Jim Wood and John Uhrin, who serve on Hampton Roads Transit’s governing body. Thanks, Councilmember Wood, for your fine leadership in getting HRT on the right path. It’s an honor to serve with such a hard-working, intelligent group of men and women as those elected to serve on the Virginia Beach City Council. Have no doubt — our city’s future is in capable hands.
Let’s move forward!
You know the challenges we face as well as we do…. The message I want to leave with you today is that we have a bright future. We’ve faced these challenges before, and we’re only limited by our vision and our desire to lead. I’m here to tell you that that desire is here today.
We could take a dark view of the coming years, but I’m asking you to walk with me and approach this as a time of great opportunity. To paraphrase author Thomas L. Friedman, the biggest challenge of our lifetime is actually an opportunity…. And a test of whether we are able and willing to lead.
Are we able to lead? The answer is an unqualified Yes! Are we willing to lead? You know it! Let us meet the challenge, together.
Throughout Hampton Roads, and looking around right here in this room, I can see the possibilities. Together, we have tremendous talent, creativity, wisdom and dedication…a pioneering spirit, and the ability to come up with innovative solutions.
I have high hopes and aspirations, and I have never felt more strongly that the best days lie ahead….that good times are coming for all of us….and that nothing is impossible for this great City.
Thank you for being here today. God bless you, and God bless the City of Virginia Beach.