Light rail in Va. Beach: Look to Charlotte's success?

13News Now Eric Kane has the story

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- Supporters of bringing the Tide from Norfolk to Town Center say Hampton Roads could see a surge in development, like what happened in Charlotte, N.C.

Charlotte is a fast growing city and its light rail system opened in 2007. Along its nine-mile corridor, the city's transit system says there has been $1.5 billion in economic development. That includes new apartment towers, restaurants, and shops.

Jeff Michaels, the director of the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte, studies the rapid growth of the "Queen City" and the transportation infrastructure racing to keep up.

It's a lot of the younger generation, creative class moving here. They're choosing to live close in, which is a complete shift from 20 to 30 years ago when most of the young talent was living out in the suburban apartment complexes," said Michaels.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms often references the boom in economic development along Charlotte's transit system corridor when trying to convince voters to approve a referendum that would extend the Tide to Virginia Beach's Town Center. However, light rail opponents think it is not a realistic comparison.

"To compare Charlotte to Virginia Beach is like night and day," said City Treasurer John Atkinson, who is leading the charge against light rail in Virginia Beach. "Charlotte is a major crossroads, transportation cross roads. It's also a vibrant financial center on the east coast. Virginia Beach, on the other hand, is a cul-de-sac."

Since the Tide opened in 2011, Hampton Roads Transit says the City of Norfolk has seen $500 million in commercial development, which includes a surge in apartment spaces and the relocation of a Fortune 500 company.

Employers like ADP say one reason the company brought 1,800 jobs to Norfolk is due to the city's commitment to a more walkable lifestyle.

Joash Schulman with VB Connex says a new report from the City of Virginia Beach proves the economic benefits of light rail. The study projects development along a Town Center expansion would generate $1.7 billion in tax revenue over 20 years. In addition, the city would add 6,500 jobs by 2030.

"You will see entirely new opportunities, new businesses, more jobs and broadening the tax base that will take pressure off our citizens and take pressure off our rural and outlying areas," Schulman explained.

Light rail poll results


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