Field house pitched for WB

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A proposed field house that supporters say would rejuvenate Western Branch’s retail community — and draw users from Suffolk — is up for discussion tonight.

Chesapeake City Councilman Roland Davis proposed that the Chesapeake City Council include $7 million in the city’s 2017 capital improvement budget, which goes into effect July 1, to build a field house in Western Branch.

The field house could include indoor turf fields, hard courts for volleyball and basketball, and a lounge or party room. Ideally, it would draw sports teams from Chesapeake, Suffolk, Norfolk and Portsmouth, according to Davis.

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Davis will be available for questions at 6:30 p.m. tonight at a community meeting at the Portsmouth-Chesapeake Elks Lodge No. 82, located at 2541 Gum Road.

“We need a family destination at Chesapeake Square, something that will draw people into Western Branch and inspire the community to reinvigorate itself,” Davis said. “This can produce a revenue stream that will offset costs … and I believe it will spark retail development in Western Branch.”

Although he didn’t pitch the idea until the Jan. 26 City Council meeting, Davis said he has been researching its viability for nearly two years. He fast-tracked his recommendation after Macy’s — a long time anchor at Chesapeake Square — and American Eagle Outfitters recently announced plans to shutter their stores in the mall.

The City Council discussed it at a retreat on Jan. 30 and will take it up again as part of its capital budget discussions on Feb. 9.

Davis’ proposal calls for the city to invest $7 million in the field house. Through a public bidding process, the city would contract with an outside company to handle operations through a 20-year leasing agreement, he said.

That company would be required to make a roughly $1.6-million investment up front, which would be used for furniture, fixtures and equipment.

“We will be looking for someone who is willing to put skin in the game,” Davis said.

The city would recoup its investment over time, mostly through increased real estate tax and sales taxes revenue the project would generate, he said.

It’s important for citizens to buy into input on the proposed project, Davis said.

“We don’t want to push forward unless citizens want it,” he said. “The population has to want it for it to be profitable and successful.”

As a parent used to driving kids to sports events in Virginia Beach or on the Peninsula, Kathy Reagan Young loves the concept.

“What we need here is a destination venue, something that cities around us don’t have and that people are willing to travel to,” said Young, founder of the Western Branch Growing Forward page on Facebook. The online group promotes development in Western Branch and has organized committees to work on solutions.

“A field house makes sense to help us prop up our failing retail market,” she added.

“This could be our life raft … a new beginning for Western Branch.”

Thus far, feedback from the community and fellow council members seems positive, Davis added.