Group urges support for WB field house

Published 10:06 pm Friday, February 5, 2016

More than 70 people braved pelting rain Thursday to learn more about Chesapeake City Councilman Roland Davis’ proposal for the city to build a $7 million field house in Western Branch.

The majority of the crowd that packed the Portsmouth-Chesapeake Elks Lodge to question Davis and Councilwoman Ella Ward appeared to support the proposed field house.

Most of the questions targeted details, such as the types of sports people want offered or whether school sports teams could use the facilities. The focus, at this point, needs to be winning the council’s financial support, Davis said.

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Claire Richardson, a Western Branch resident who takes her child to soccer practice at the Virginia Beach Field House at least weekly, believes the project would generate money for local businesses.

“Driving out to Virginia Beach means we hit a restaurant at least once and we occasionally have to stop by a soccer shop to buy some sort of gear we forgot,” Richardson said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Davis, at a Jan. 26 City Council meeting, proposed that the city amend its 2017 Capital Improvement Plan to include $7 million for building a field house in the Western Branch area in 2017.

The proposed facility would be roughly 60 percent of the size of the Virginia Beach Field House; include indoor turf fields, hard courts for volleyball and basketball and a lounge or party room; and draw teams from neighboring Suffolk, Isle of Wight County and Portsmouth.

Davis is proposing the city fund construction of the building, and contract with an outside company to equip and operate it. The city could recoup its investment through increased tax revenue and property values.

“None of the details matter unless we can get the support of council,” Davis said. He and members of Western Branch Growing Forward — an online group that promotes business development in Western Branch — urged supporters to contact their council members before the Feb. 9 meeting.

“It’s going to be a tough sell to council … and we need your support,” said Councilwoman Ella Ward. “ We had a hard time even getting Cracker Barrel here.”

Davis said he would like to facility to be close to Chesapeake Square, which has lost two anchor stores, Sears and Macy’s, in the last year.

“We would like it to be in or around the retail district,” Davis said. “We don’t want people to have to travel a long distance from the interstate.”

Speakers expressed an interest in having an aquatics center and track facilities, accessibility for local residents to use and the important of regionalism in the project’s success.

“I’m excited about the vision,” said resident Yvette Massey. “My only concern is that we are limiting ourselves … when we let the operators choose what goes in there. I want a say-so in what’s there.”

Western Branch resident Tim Hayes was cautiously optimistic, saying it has to be proven to be economically feasible before he would support it.

“It can be a hit if it’s what the community desires … but it has to be economically feasible,” he said. “It’s not financially sounds if you have a building that sits empty.”