Good afternoon all. Thank you Governor Allen for traveling to our beautiful city for this occasion — I appreciate your being here and your introduction.
I’d also like to thank the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and today’s sponsors for organizing and supporting this annual rite of passage that lets our citizens know where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
Thank you, as well, to my TowneBank family and my family at home — my lovely wife of nearly 35 years, Bev; our three daughters, Mollie, Kate and Anne Douglas; our son-in-law, Kyle; our future son-in-law, Fred; and our 1-year-old granddaughter, Madie, for all their love, support and encouragement — I couldn’t do what I do without you all.
It seems like each year since I was elected Mayor, we’ve been hit hard with some of the biggest challenges that have faced this city in its nearly 50-year history.
Like other cities, we’ve had shortfall after shortfall in our budgets, and less and less revenue to work with…. The military presence here has been threatened by federal government cuts, and the ailing economy has diminished this nation’s ability to bounce back and prosper.
But, time and time again, we have risen to the occasion by making tough decisions that not only keep our eye on the future but continue to keep Virginia Beach well ahead of other cities in the nation.
If you read the newspapers, surf the Internet or watch television, you will see the unfortunate choices other cities across the country have made to balance their rolls — including selling city-owned buildings and leasing them back at exorbitant losses. We’ve seen cities slash spending for their schools, lay off teachers and shutter plans for much-needed new school buildings. We’ve seen businesses shut down — devastating families and dreams.
I am proud and humbled in many ways to say Virginia Beach has not had to resort to such extreme tactics, and continues to provide the quality of life that our residents have come to expect and deserve.
Over the last year, we have seen many aspects of this city — the best city in the world — improve despite being embroiled in the worst recession since the Great Depression.
I’m here to show you today that Virginia Beach has a proven track record of getting through the rough times, of making tough decisions, and of staying on the best, long-term path for our citizens.
In the past year, Virginia Beach has made it onto multiple lists that praise how this City is run, how healthy it is and what a great place it is to raise a family. We broke ground on several projects that will forever change this community for the better, dedicated others, and moved forward on several much-needed transportation projects.
We’ve purchased thousands of acres near Naval Air Station Oceana to keep development from encroaching on the master jet base, obtained open space by the Chesapeake Bay, and preserved agricultural land from being developed.
Our public schools continue to rank among the best in the nation. Our crime rate, one of the lowest for a city our size.
For the second year in a row, Virginia Beach’s general obligation bonds have been rated as AAA investments by all three major bond rating agencies — Virginia Beach is the only Hampton Roads city to earn this distinction.
We are a fiscally strong City, and our conservative management practices are paying off and, as a result of this perfect credit rating, Virginia Beach saved about $1.8 million dollars over the 20-year term of bonds for major projects last year. Year after year after year, we do more with less, and, yet, we are STILL among the most effective and efficient governments in the nation!
We have so much to celebrate.
In fact, one of our major victories in 2011 was acquiring 1,720 acres — more than the previous decade — in our long-running campaign to protect Oceana.
At the time of the BRAC hearings in 2005, the City stepped up to the plate and vowed to roll back encroachment around Oceana to allow for the safe operation of the base and for the protection of our citizens. We have kept our promise.
If we hadn’t, we could still stand to lose an irreplaceable component to our economic engine — more than 16,000 military and civilian personnel including the Dam Neck Annex, with a total payroll of $1.3 billion dollars a year.
Everyone in this room would have been proud to hear the Navy’s glowing accolades about this successful acquisition program last week at Oceana’s change-of-command ceremony. Clearly, this partnership is succeeding.
Once again, defense spending is on the federal chopping block. The Department of Defense has called for two new rounds of base closings over three years to see where cuts can be made. Our fight to keep Oceana safe and sound will continue. We have not come this far to give up the ship — or the jets.
Dealing with the threat of cuts or loss of assets WILL require strong leadership and a clear vision of where we want to be as a region. It’s a big country that will be competing for diminishing defense expenditures and assets. This is why we must approach the problem in partnership with our surrounding cities and the military. If one of us loses, we all lose. This approach will make our cities stronger economically … and keep our nation stronger militarily…
…Which brings me back to our efforts to support and fund the Oceana Land Use Conformity Program. In 2011 we reached new heights. We have now acquired 540 homes and more than 2,000 acres to protect Oceana’s future.
The City’s recent purchase of 792 acres of farmland and woods off of Indian River Road from Rock Ministries is the largest single land purchase in our six-year program.
The City also paid Kempsville Presbyterian Church $7.84 million dollars to buy the 516-acre Brown Farm near the Municipal Center. And, last year, we also purchased an 18-acre commerce center on London Bridge Road — a significant acquisition that will account for a 13-percent reduction in incompatible commercial uses around Oceana.
We are grateful our legislators in Richmond have supported this program by matching the City’s annual commitment of $7.5 million dollars every year for the past five years, allowing us to spend $75 million dollars for these ever-important tracts of land. We would not have secured this much-needed financial support without the help of Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., the Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, who traveled to Richmond with me last year to ensure that money made it into the state budget. Admiral Harvey— please stand and let us salute you for your service to our country.
And here’s to our nation’s modest-and-mighty Navy SEALs, who recently celebrated 50 years of service since President John F. Kennedy established the program in 1962. Thanks for your heroism, your fearlessness, and your courage. We are honored to have you and your families living in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads. Will all members of the United States Armed Forces — active, retired and reserve — please stand and let us honor you.
Turning now to another vital piece in the city’s economic puzzle: Tourism.
We found out this past season just how tough-as-nails this industry is. In 2011, the city experienced a record year for overall lodging sales — $279 million dollars — a 1.7 percent increase over 2010. Visitor spending on lodging is the single best indicator of how healthy our tourism industry is.
These visitors — with an average household income of $93,000 dollars — spent more during their vacations in 2011, despite Hurricane Irene and a recession that has seen families become much more frugal on how they spend their entertainment and vacation dollars. In fact, citywide restaurant sales, retail sales and amusement revenue were all up during this sluggish economy!
Citywide hotel room tax revenues totaled $24.4 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2011, up seven percent from the previous year, and $1.7 million dollars more than projected in the annual budget. This was the highest annual collection on record for this revenue stream.
Virginia Beach was the only destination among our competition that saw positive increases in visitor spending last year.
With the decline of the residential real-estate tax base, it is music to my ears that hotel assessments citywide are up 1.7 percent — or $16.7 million dollars — for the next fiscal year. We are heading in the right direction.
Moving on to the Oceanfront, we introduced our new and improved Laskin Gateway corridor. This once-on-paper-only plan is becoming an attractive and energetic district that ties into other efforts to rejuvenate aging areas of the Oceanfront. This includes plans to redevelop the Dome site and Rudee Loop, to bring a headquarters hotel to the Convention Center, and to beautify key corridors into the resort area.
Our strategy is working, our plan is effective, and we’re winning, BUT … we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. To stay ahead, we have to step up our game. I’m not suggesting that we move forward without careful consideration, responsible planning and fiscal responsibility. However with the current low interest rates and the lower costs of construction and materials, we know the time is right to set great ideas in motion.
Let’s now visit the southern part of Virginia Beach — a beautiful area of waterways, nature and agrarian lifestyles.
When we talk about the “Big Three” elements of our economy, the military, tourism, and agriculture, many people overlook agriculture. This shouldn’t be the case. Virginia Beach was founded by families who set down roots here, worked the land and made us what we are today.
Our city’s Agricultural Business sector provides an estimated $100-million-dollar economic impact to the city, including production crops like soybeans, the city’s largest crop, and fruits and vegetables.
The City continues to purchase land to place in its award-winning Agriculture Reserve Program. We are nearly halfway to the 1995 goal of enrolling 20,000 acres to preserve the southern part of the city.
We are also making every effort to safeguard open space and sensitive wetland areas in the northern part of the city.
I’d like to congratulate the City Council for its vote, taken JUST last night, to finalize the purchase of Pleasure House Point — the largest undeveloped property in the Lynnhaven River watershed.
Pleasure House Point — and its 122 acres of open water, shoreline habitat and maritime forest — has been a top priority in the Outdoors Plan for more than a decade.
As we celebrate all of these wonderful victories — we know that CHALLENGES still exist and must be met head-on.
As your Mayor, I know the Number ONE reason many people move to this city is because of the quality of our public schools. I’ve heard it from people time and again, and I’ve been reading your comments on Facebook that say the same.
Our schools continue to outperform others in Hampton Roads on Standards of Learning exams. Based on preliminary analysis of the 2010-2011 SOL test results, 99 percent of Virginia Beach Public Schools are projected to earn full SOL accreditation. We continually rank top in the nation for best public school systems, including fifth best large city school division, according to Great Schools, a national non-profit that studies private and public school education.
And last year, 10 of 11 of our high schools were ranked in the top six percent nationwide by The Washington Post.
These accomplishments will not falter on my watch.
I wholeheartedly know that our schools are vital to the future economic success of our students and our city. During my tenure since 2009, we have spent a total of $2.6 billion dollars on public schools, which includes ambitious capital projects.
We’ve all seen the headlines recently, not just here but in every city and state in America…. Virginia Beach and its Public Schools are facing substantial shortfalls in funding over the next five years. Many reasons exist for these gaps — including the continuing decline of residential real estate values, the rising costs of retirement and health-care plans, and the reduction of state and federal money coming to the City.
Since Fiscal Year ’09, the median home value in Virginia Beach has decreased from $259,000 dollars to $220,000 dollars. This means that the average homeowner is paying $352 less a year in real estate taxes. Averaging it out, and adding it up, it means that over a four-year period since I’ve been Mayor, the city will receive $66.5 million dollars less in real estate taxes to help balance its budget and pay for the services that we have come to expect and deserve in this fine city.
And we know in all of this — Public Schools have been one of the hardest-hit. Federal stimulus money to fund teacher positions — to the tune of $64.1 million dollars — has dried up. The Virginia Retirement System contribution from the School System is proposed to increase by $19.9 million dollars, which doesn’t include the $8.9 million dollar increase the city has to pay for its employees.
Regardless of these cuts and mandated, increased costs, leaders in Virginia Beach and in the Commonwealth know that we cannot afford to let education be underfunded.
Now is the time to do what is right for our students. We will not let our schools fall behind. We will not compromise when it comes to providing a quality school system in this city. We will not support budget cuts that will cause irreparable damage to our schools. (PAUSE)
As I stated, students are a vital part of our economic success. Educated citizens within a community attract successful companies. This is why the City is committed to bringing new businesses within our borders. Diversifying the tax base and taking the real estate tax burden off homeowners is and always will be an integral part of our plan to make this City successful.
Since 2009, we have added more than 5,200 jobs within Virginia Beach with $313 million in new investments. Last year alone, Virginia Beach gained 22 new businesses — a whopping 144 percent increase over the previous year. 72 businesses expanded, adding 1,800 jobs to the payrolls.
We are proud that Virginia Beach companies are thriving.
Amerigroup is now #396 on the Fortune 500 list, and Valkyrie Enterprises is the only Virginia company outside of the D.C. metro area to make the annual Forbes.com list of “America’s Most Promising Companies.”
Stihl’s most recent 53,000-square-foot expansion brings 52 new jobs to the company’s North American headquarters. Stihl’s recent $18-million dollar purchase of the former Lillian Vernon site nearly doubles the company’s footprint in Virginia Beach and opens the door for further expansion.
IMS:GEAR Virginia, one of the largest manufacturers of gear assemblies for the North American car market, will invest $35.5 million dollars and create up to 80 new jobs — expanding its Virginia Beach operations.
I would like to thank Amerigroup, Valkyrie, Stihl and IMS:GEAR for calling this city home.
As announced last year, BMZ GmbH, based in Karlstein, Germany, has now established its U.S. headquarters — producing lithium ion batteries — here in Virginia Beach. Listen to what Mike Griese of BMZ has to say about our city.
Well, Virginia Beach is for lovers, but it's also for business. It's a very business friendly state. And with the presence of a good workforce, with the immediate access to the interstate, within seconds to the interstate, within minutes from Richmond and Washington or anywhere else, within minutes we're at the airport, having a good workforce, it was obvious that this would be our first, primary choice. And then the final decision was made for the Virginia Beach location because of the excessive presence of international companies that have already been located in Virginia Beach, so it became obvious.
Thank you, Mike.
We understand we must always work to attract new businesses to our great city, which means keeping our taxes low and regulations minimal. The elimination of the Business, Professional and Occupational License Tax for the first two years of a new business is allowing start-ups to get off and running. The abolishment of the machinery and tools tax provides a new incentive for companies looking to establish, relocate or expand high-value manufacturing facilities in our city.
During my term as your Mayor, Princess Anne Commons has evolved into a center for athletics, medicine, bioscience, higher education and research. Largely a cornfield 15 years ago, this area ushered in several exciting businesses and projects that create well-paying jobs and provide opportunities for so many who are in — or want to be in — the medical field.
LifeNet Health’s $15 million dollar, 42,000-square-foot Institute of Regenerative Medicine is scheduled to open this fall. Last year LifeNet Health touched more than 400,000 patients across the globe who needed a life-saving organ transplant, from right here in Virginia Beach. The organization has more than 560 employees and plans to add another 50 professional, scientific and research positions to the company this year.
Also under construction here is the world headquarters for Operation Smile. The facility for this outstanding charity is being built adjacent to Tidewater Community College's Regional Health Professions Center, which opened last year. The $29-million dollar Center immerses students in a learning environment that is virtually identical to what they will see in the workplace. Next spring, TCC students will also have a new, $27.3 million dollar, 89,500-square-foot Student Center.
The City also is working with TCC to build the biggest and most innovative public library east of San Jose, California! The 120,000-square-foot library will be one-third bigger than the Central Library, and will offer services for everyone, from children just learning to read … to retirees. It will open early next year.
All three of these facilities are and will truly be assets to our city, and to the region.
Thank you Dr. Deborah DiCroce for making Tidewater Community College one of the best community colleges in the nation. We wish you the best with the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. We also wish your interim successor at TCC, Dr. Peter A. Spina, continued success.
Another enormous asset to the region is Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, which opened its doors last summer, as a world-class, 160-bed acute-care facility with a certified stroke center. This historic partnership between Sentara Healthcare and Bon Secours was a $173 million dollar investment that kept hundreds of skilled workers employed for two years during a deep recession. Since opening, this hospital has handled 33,000 emergency room visits, making it the second busiest hospital E-R in the Sentara Health System. From August through January, more than 1,000 babies were born there.
All of this leads me to the single largest challenge we face as a City and as a region: TRANSPORTATION. During my term as chair of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, we worked as a team and came up with — for the first time — an effective system to prioritize transportation projects for this region. And, many projects on our priorities list made it onto the Governor’s priorities list. $600 million dollars worth of projects were funded in Hampton Roads. A whopping $156 million dollars has already been allocated for projects like the Lesner Bridge replacement, the Lynnhaven Parkway extension and the widening of Holland and Witchduck roads. We are grateful to our legislators and the Governor for making this happen.
However until just a few years ago, we were receiving more than $30 million dollars a year in state urban funding, which would have paid for projects like the improvements to Laskin Road and First Colonial Road. Since 2008, the City, as well as other jurisdictions throughout Virginia, has received ZERO dollars in urban funding allocations. State funding is no longer available for primary or secondary road improvements.
In fact, looking down that road a few years, the state will find it difficult to pay for maintaining existing roads, and it is unlikely that federal transportation dollars will be matched.
The Virginia Beach City Council and the leaders of this region and the state need to continue working with the General Assembly to fund a new revenue stream of at least $500 million dollars a year.
It’s time we harness our resources and our respective political influences. Together, I am confident we can build a campaign to come up with real solutions to these transportation challenges.
Finally, we must also look to fund mass transit and high-speed rail. I am greatly indebted to the leadership of State Director Thelma Drake for making passenger rail service to Norfolk and the Southside a reality. But, we need additional funding statewide if we’re going to expand this service and eventually go to high-speed rail.
We also are exploring alternative funding methods to extend light rail into Virginia Beach, at first to Town Center, then eventually to the Oceanfront. Everywhere I go, people of all ages say, “We have to get light rail in Virginia Beach.” I concur 100 percent.
I know we have said that we would wait for a Light Rail study to be complete at the end of this year to decide which direction to take, but, we have all seen the Tides’ success — above and beyond what was anticipated. Therefore, I think the time is right to ask voters whether they would support bringing The Tide into Virginia Beach. That’s why I’ve asked Councilmembers Jim Wood and John Uhrin to look into this matter, and recommend when a referendum on the ballot would make sense. I am hopeful the issue will come to us sooner rather than later.
Now, I’d like to recognize Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim for his perseverance and leadership in bringing the 7.4-mile starter line to his city. Paul, we hope to link to The Tide in the very near future.
Despite these challenges, the City has transportation milestones to look forward to. All of our road-widening and bridge projects will include much anticipated and badly needed bike lanes, including a 2-mile stretch along the eastbound lane of Shore Drive. Part of my pledge to you as Mayor was to create a safe and comprehensive bike-lane network in Virginia Beach, to make travel for cyclists and motorists much safer. We are meeting that pledge.
As we look to the future of this great city, we must continue to engage our citizens and our business leaders to create plans that will set the stage for new growth and development opportunities. These plans also must promote economic vitality and environmental stewardship for generations to come. I’m proud to note that we have completed six of the eight strategic growth area plans AND, working with the Aquarium Foundation this past year, we also approved a very forward-looking Aquarium and Owls Creek Master Plan.
One of these strategic growth areas already gives us a lot of bragging rights. At Town Center, we continue to see what a vibrant place it has become, with new restaurants opening and events packing the 1,300-seat Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.
In 2011, 63 percent of our Oceanfront visitors went to Town Center to eat, shop and take in the atmosphere. Town Center is now an integral part of what draws people to Virginia Beach.
Because of EVERYTHING this city has to offer — its schools, parks, beaches, A-1 public safety, the region’s lowest tax rate, lower-than-the-nation unemployment, and that Triple A bond rating — Virginia Beach in the past year made it onto several “best-of” lists.
On the screen are the many accolades bestowed upon the city by numerous prestigious organizations. I’d like to mention two of my favorites: Number TWO best city to Raise a Family, and NUMBER ONE Best-Run City in America by 24/7 Wall St.”
Mayor Fraim, eat your heart out!
We embrace these honors, but we also aren’t taking them for granted. Recognition doesn’t just happen. It comes from years of careful planning, well-thought-out decisions and sticking with priorities we know to be tried and true.
There is no doubt that good things are happening in every nook and cranny of Virginia Beach, thanks to so many wonderful citizens who put their heart and soul into our community. A heartfelt thanks also to our dedicated City Council. Please stand so that we can recognize you.
I am grateful to our hard-working City employees and volunteers, who work diligently every day to help make this the best-run city in the nation. Please stand so we can recognize you.
I’d also like to take a few moments to talk about other efforts in this city that need to be highlighted….
I am proud that the city is undertaking a new and innovative approach to helping our homeless population. At City Council’s direction, a dialogue has started with the community and faith-based organizations to talk about a homeless service campus that would consolidate services all in one location. Potential services could include emergency shelter, long-term housing, city offices, vocational training and educational programs. I believe this is the first step in bringing comprehensive assistance to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Later this evening, police officers in Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, the state and this nation, will start their shifts protecting our citizens. With God’s help, all will finish that shift unharmed. Sadly, 14 law enforcement officers in this great city have died in the line of duty.
All will be honored when the Virginia Beach Police Foundation unveils its impressive law enforcement officers memorial. I hope everyone here will join me May 12 at 1 p.m. on the boardwalk at 35th Street to see, for the first time, this symbol of the bravery of all law enforcement officers.
Because of these heroic efforts, Virginia Beach continues to be one of the safest cities of its size in the United States. This doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s because of the dedication and service of public safety officers, including police, fire, Emergency Medical Services and VB911, and the support and assistance that you — the citizens — provide to these agencies.
Last year, we celebrated the 200th Birthday of the Historical Seatack Community. Congratulations to George Minns and the members of the 100-year-old Seatack Community Civic League for organizing a three-day commemoration that will help keep memories alive, featuring stories of service and sacrifice — stories that should never be forgotten.
I am delighted that the Seatack Rec Center is now named in honor of a great man — Joseph V. Grimstead, Sr.
It is with great sadness, though, that I must acknowledge the loss of Bishop Barnett K. Thoroughgood, a great leader in Seatack, the city, the state and the nation. We will miss him for the love he had for this community, his family and friends, his impassioned sermons, and his tireless efforts to serve those less fortunate.
As part of this initiative, police officers conducted door-to-door interviews with more than 1,500 residents in several neighborhoods, and continue to do follow ups and additional citizen surveys.
Soon, Bayside will have a new Recreation Center to continue supporting our community by giving families choices on where to spend their time in a safe and healthy way.
This year, low-income families are engaged in “Bank On Virginia Beach,” a partnership of banks, credit unions and community organizations. Bank On is helping families avoid predatory lenders, build credit and manage cash flow by establishing traditional savings and checking accounts that are free or low-cost.
Finally, the dilapidated building that housed the city’s homeless animals and threatened to cost us $1,000 dollars a day in state fines for being subpar has been replaced by the state-of-the-art Animal Care and Adoption Center on Birdneck Road.
In closing, as residents of the greatest city in the world, we are blessed. Like the First English Settlers who set foot on our shores, we are a tough breed. Many cities have been paralyzed, and now, they find themselves so far behind that it could take a miracle to catch up, to restore services, and to move ahead. Despite doggedly tough economic times, (PAUSE) … here in Virginia Beach, great things continue to happen.
We are approaching our 50th anniversary as a city. What will the next half-century bring? Time and tide wait for no one. We cannot afford to stand still while the world speeds by us. The easiest thing we could do is to sit back and do nothing. But we are the masters of our own destiny — we have to be, and we must remain in motion — moving forward. We must build the momentum that we’ve worked so hard to achieve. It’s up to us to make the right choices today … for a bright future tomorrow.
So let’s maintain our strong partnership with the military. Let’s fund our schools at the level they deserve. Let’s invest in tourism and stay competitive with other markets. Let’s help agriculture and the environment flourish. Let’s diversify our tax base to help take the funding burden off the backs of homeowners. Let’s pursue partnerships that will provide a win-win for our economy, for Virginia Beach, and for the citizens of this great community.
Seriously folks, our residents are the true heart of our city and as I look around this ballroom, I see a very special audience. I see people who want a more prosperous and sustainable community. I see the best municipal employees, volunteers and City Council members on the planet. I see men and women who run the most dynamic corporations and organizations in the world. I see the best citizens that you could find anywhere — people who are working to ensure the quality of life in our community continues to be superb, so that Virginia Beach will continue to be the best city in the world.