2014 State of the City Address

​​​Presented by Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr.
​Thursday, March 13, 2014, Virginia Beach Convention Center
“2020 VISION: Hold Me Accountable”


Good afternoon.  It’s great to see all of you here at this signature event, which keeps getting bigger and better — thanks to you.

Morgan, I appreciate your gracious introduction.

I’d also like to thank the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and today’s sponsors for organizing and supporting this annual event… and my Towne Bank family, and my family at home — my lovely wife of more than 35 years, Bev; our three daughters, Mollie, Kate and Anne Douglas; and our sons-in-law, Kyle and Fred, for all the support and encouragement you give me on a daily basis.  I couldn’t do what I do without you.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank the newest generation of The Sessoms Family — three-year-old Madie, and one-year-old Willie.  I am sure there is no prouder grandfather, dad or husband in the whole wide world.

I’m also sure there is no prouder mayor in the whole wide world.  One of America’s favorite vacation destinations, Virginia Beach boasts a diverse economy, a highly skilled workforce, and low tax rates.  We have great neighborhoods, schools, beaches, shops, restaurants, and cultural and recreational offerings. And we continue to be the safest city our size in the nation.  The Virginia Beach lifestyle is simply spectacular.

What city in Coastal Virginia has the lowest real estate tax rate?
Virginia Beach!

What city has the lowest personal property tax rate?
Virginia Beach!

What city invests the largest part of its operating budget in public schools?
Virginia Beach!

What city has the highest income per capita?
Virginia Beach!

What city has the lowest unemployment rate?
Virginia Beach!

What city has the lowest violent crime rate?
Virginia Beach!

Which is the only Coastal Virginia city rated AAA by all three major bond-rating agencies?
Virginia Beach!

That’s right — we earned it for the fourth year in a row thanks to our conservative financial practices and strong management.

What’s the greatest city in the world — and please say it with me:
Virginia Beach!

Since last year’s State of the City Luncheon, we’ve seen several exciting projects come to fruition, and we’ve seen several promising projects get underway.  Please check this out​…

Investing in Our Community


Last year, we also took time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the merger of a quaint resort community and the much larger suburbs and farmland of Princess Anne County.  Our Sandler Center was jam-packed during our Sister Cities Gala, and Town Center was overflowing with people of all ages who were eager to ring in the New Year.

I’m excited about our future….

The skyline of our Central Business District is taking shape beautifully!  This summer, the doors will open at Town Center Phase V.  The $105 million dollar, 15-story, mixed-use tower brings more offices, more retail, more luxury apartments, and a lot more parking to this popular destination.

Also this summer, Seatack Elementary School will become the site of An Achievable Dream, a groundbreaking public-private program that provides year-round extended-day learning — complete with enrichment classes, field trips, and strong support from community partners, the military, and mentors.  An Achievable Dream Academy is being established in Seatack — the nation’s oldest African American community.

The accolades keep coming…. Last year, the City of Virginia Beach won the Governor’s Supplier Diversity Award for innovation and best practices involving small businesses and those owned by women or minorities.  We’re the second-most business friendly city in America, according to CNN Money.  We’re the 7th on the Forbes list of America’s New Manufacturing Boomtowns.  Forbes also says we’re the 7th happiest city to work in. 

Our commitment to the United States Armed Forces is enduring.  Look at how we’ve successfully addressed the NAS Oceana encroachment issue….As of the beginning of this year, the City of Virginia Beach has acquired or reached agreement to acquire 694 dwelling units in APZ-1 and the Clear Zones.  In the Inter-facility Traffic Area or other areas of concern, the City has under agreement or has acquired a total of 1,797 acres.

To meet the requirements of the BRAC Compliance Plan, the Commonwealth has been matching Virginia Beach’s funds in the amount of $7.5 million dollars a year.  As I’ve always professed, maintaining a strong military presence is a regional issue.

So next fiscal year, we expect the state will be committing $5 million dollars to Virginia Beach and, with our support, $2.5 million dollars to Chesapeake, to help facilitate attempts to address encroachment around the recently renovated Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field.

Finally, we have an additional outlying field for Naval air practice landings — at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.  This will be used by the Navy’s E-2 and C-2 propeller planes.  I thank Congressman Scott Rigell for working with me to achieve this critical requirement.

We are very proud that so many military families call Virginia Beach “home.”  Admiral Bill Gortney, Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, was here but had to leave.

Please stand as I call your name:

  • Rear Admiral Dixon Smith, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic;

  • Major General Daniel E. Long, Jr., Adjutant General of Virginia;

  • Captain Frank Hughlett, Commanding Officer of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story;

  • Captain Kit Chope, Commanding Officer of NAS Oceana;

  • Captain Eric Tapp, Commanding Officer of Combat Direction Systems Activity, Dam Neck; and

  • Captain Stephen Koehler [pronounced KAY-lor] Commanding Officer, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Will all members — both active and retired — of the United States Armed Forces please stand and let us recognize you for your courage and service to this great nation.

We are committed to maintaining and growing the military, as we work to sustain and diversify our economy. 

Tourism continues to support more than 12,000 jobs in Virginia Beach, and I’m pleased to report that in general, performance was up last year over 2012, which was a record year.

Another key industry in Virginia Beach, agriculture, continues to play a vital role in our economy — with a yearly economic impact now exceeding $120 million dollars, and more than 28,000 acres in agricultural use.  Last year, our Agriculture Reserve Program enrolled 317 acres into the program, surpassing the 9,200-acre plateau.

We have so much to be grateful for here….

We don’t need to name names, but there are cities in America that have gone bankrupt due to the recession.  Here in Virginia Beach, our economy is growing stronger, and we are steadfast in our determination to have a financially sustainable city.  We continuously strive to prosper, and we are blessed that we have the leadership in place to lead Virginia Beach into the next decade.

We realize the importance of Virginia Beach children being ready to succeed in school and in life when they enroll in kindergarten.  Last year, our GrowSmart program was honored with an Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award by the national Alliance for Innovation.  I cannot overstate the importance of preparing our youth for success before they begin school — and even before they are born.  GrowSmart promotes the healthy development and school readiness of young children.  The bigger picture…  It’s a vital part of our workforce development strategy, laying the foundation for our babies to excel as 21st century learners, workers and citizens. 

Once again, Dr. Sheila Magula is doing an outstanding job as an interim superintendent.  Thank you for making these transitions seamless.

Dr. Aaron Spence has been selected as the next superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.  Dr. Spence — please stand.  Dr. Spence, we have some of the best schools in the nation here in Virginia Beach, and we’re glad to see a homegrown resident take the helm of our public schools system. 

Would everybody please join me in welcoming this Green Run High School graduate back home? 

Now, I would also like to recognize our City Manager, Jim Spore.  Jim, please stand.  Thanks to the longest-serving chief executive officer of a major city in the United States for your steady and consistent leadership.

Jim leads the best government staff in the world….  Will all Virginia Beach City employees please stand and let us applaud you.

Last year, more than 20,000 community and neighborhood volunteers spent more than 1.4 million hours helping the City of Virginia Beach be the best it can be.

Throughout our city organization, and in every corner of Virginia Beach, people donate their time and talents in service to our community.  

Our City Council is now the strongest it’s been in decades.  Will the entire Virginia Beach City Council please stand and let us recognize you for a job well done.

We’re in a good place, both literally and figuratively.

But where do we go from here?  We have a vision for the year 2040 to advance regionalism, early childhood education, and transportation, and we’re moving forward with it.  But when the year 2040 comes around, I will be well into my 80s.  So what can we do NOW?  What can we do now to promote economic growth… which will result in a higher quality of living for Coastal Virginians in the near future? What seeds can we sow today that will lead to remarkable rewards this decade?

I have a vision — a 2020 Vision — that in the next six years, if we create new building blocks for jobs and economic growth today, we will increase our ability to enjoy a more prosperous tomorrow…. And right now, we have numerous opportunities — low-hanging fruit, so to speak — staring us directly in the face.  We must be positioned to take advantage of the prospects that are before us now, so that our State of the City will be stronger six years from now.

It’s time to move forward. 

Today, I’d like to outline my top four objectives that are the focus of my 2020 Vision….

First, transportation has held us back for years, but today, it’s time for Virginia Beach to pave the way for a comprehensive transportation system that will offer the world greater access to Coastal Virginia — by land, by rail, and by air.… and will give us better access to the world.

It’s time to bring light rail into Virginia Beach.  Let me remind you that more than 60 percent of Virginia Beach voters supported light rail, a very reliable, convenient, safe and environmentally clean mode of transportation.  To get the trains rolling, we’ll have to make a long-term strategic investment in the future of the city.  And today, I’m pleased to announce that we have a firm commitment from Governor Terry McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne to help with the funding we need to bring light rail into Virginia Beach. 

I thank the General Assembly for creating the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission.  This new body, which will be effective on July 1st, will allow the region to determine where the funds generated by new revenue sources created by the 2013 General Assembly will be spent.  This new authority will mean that projects that were dreams — including the expansion of I-64 on the Peninsula, new crossings of Hampton Roads, the expansion of I-64 in Chesapeake, and other  projects chosen by the region — will become realities.  Thank you to our delegation for supporting this effort.

Second, it’s time for Coastal Virginia to be an international destination... with a truly international airport… that has direct flights to major cities on the West Coast of our nation… and maybe even the West Coast of Europe.  I’m tired of layovers between two or three flights to get where I’m going — aren’t you? This is simply unacceptable! 

An Environmental Impact Statement just got underway for a second runway at the airport, which will ultimately draw more investment, more jobs, and more tourists to our region.  Along with that, it’s time to “take ORF” for a brighter future, and Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and I are already meeting with Norfolk Airport Authority Executive Director Wayne Shank to explore new ways to achieve a world-class air transportation system for our region.  You’ll be hearing more about this, because we will need our business and military communities to help us make this happen.

Third, it’s time to build an ar​ena.  We are the largest market in the nation without a large arena.  What a game-changer it will be for this region to have a sports and entertainment arena right across the street from this convention center.  Such a facility would generate a significant return on any investment the city would make — just as we’ve enjoyed a healthy return on numerous previous capital investments.

And fourth, it’s time to establish Virginia Beach as a destination for groundbreaking research and development, and headquarters of some of the world’s leading innovators in healthcare, bio-technology, pharmaceutical development and healthcare delivery systems. 

Partnering with Tidewater Community College, Old Dominion University, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Hampton University, Regent University, Virginia Wesleyan College, the College of William and Mary, Sentara Healthcare, Bon Secours Health System, LifeNet Health, and WellPoint’s Amerigroup, we will attract the best minds, and establish a healthcare and pharmaceuticals research and policy center… where ideas of the future are generated and incubated — ideas that lead to new inventions, new alliances, and new frontiers in healthcare.  This will be the newest sector in our economy!

By doing so, we can create more jobs, we can strengthen and diversify our economy, and we can enhance our quality of life.  And students who go to college and concentrate in STEM fields will be able to come home to the best jobs — right here in Virginia Beach and Coastal Virginia.

In Princess Anne Commons, we already have the real estate — 1,500 acres that we can use to create our new advanced healthcare institute where one day, discoveries in stem cell research will save lives.  It will be located on a campus where one day, our advanced healthcare teams may find the cure for diabetes, which has emerged as a one of the most common and most complex diseases in the world.

Right here in Coastal Virginia, we already have quality schools, colleges and universities, and medical facilities.  Already, we are a dominant job creator in advanced healthcare solutions — that’s where one of our strengths is.  Already, we have the homegrown talent — people with the knowledge and experience to develop new drugs, and new protocols and new solutions in advanced healthcare. 

Right here in Virginia Beach, we already have the financial strength to kick-start this exciting vision.

And I’ve already asked Tom Frantz, CEO and chairman of Williams Mullen and a highly effective community leader, to chair a task force to work with the Virginia Beach City Council, and set it all in motion… because it’s time for us, Coastal Virginia to emerge as the capital of healthcare innovation in Virginia.  Tom, would you please stand?

I asked Tom to lead this charge only 10 days ago and already, he’s approached some of the numerous leaders in healthcare organizations that I mentioned earlier, and he will be contacting additional leaders in the future.  He has also briefed the Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, who is very interested in coming on board.

Some may say this is a bold vision.  And they’re right — it is!  But I’m here to tell you that it’s possible.  I say this because our city is in a strong position.  We can do this!  We should do this!  And with the City Council’s leadership, we will do this!

Remember the days when water was in short supply in Virginia Beach?  Our residents and our businesses endured the rationing of water, and we had the highest water rate in the region.

Today, our water resources are flowing, and we have one of the lowest water rates in the region.  Today, we have this beautiful convention center.  We have a fantastic amphitheater that offers awesome entertainment and great times.  Today, we have a district that will preserve our agricultural heritage for generations to come. Today, we have a Town Center, Princess Anne Commons, a first-class resort community along the Shore Drive corridor, and a topnotch resort destination at the Oceanfront.

And it’s all because Virginia Beach leaders were willing to take a risk — a well-thought-out and reasonable risk.  It’s all because Virginia Beach leaders were willing to make an investment.   And it’s all because Virginia Beach leaders were willing to fight for our future. 

Friends, it’s time to go that route again.

We must do everything possible to diversify and to grow our economy here in Coastal Virginia.  The promise of Virginia Beach and our region is substantial.  We must be willing to take these risks and make these investments again.  We must be willing to make smart investments.  We must be willing to fight for and create our future.

The window of opportunity is open right now, and the challenges of tomorrow demand our best action today — before these opportunities slip away.

The potential outcome of our 2020 Vision is tremendous.  We have the land and the resources to invest.  But we will do so responsibly, and today, I’m asking you to hold me accountable. 

This time next year, I will give you an assessment of our progress on these four initiatives, and I will continue to do so throughout my term as mayor.

Hold me accountable for this 2020 Vision.

Hold me accountable for the future.

I’m not suggesting that any of this will be easy.  But I am willing to lead the charge.  I am willing to lay the cards on the table.  And I am willing to stake my name on it.

And I’m asking you — our community’s business, military and civic leaders; our educators; our students; our parents; our worshippers; and our community volunteers — to be an important part of this 2020 Vision.  With your proactive participation, we can build momentum….

Momentum is defined as strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.   Momentum happens when people bond together for common goals, and move together in the same direction. 

Please come on board with me.  Together — we can pave the way to a brighter tomorrow and a more successful future.

Friends — It’s time to stop talking.  It’s time to start doing.  And that time is NOW.

Thank you. ​

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