Oceanfront arena project a 'no go' after city council rejects developer's proposed changes

13News Now has the details

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- A much-anticipated entertainment and sports arena across from the Virginia Beach Convention Center will not be coming to the Oceanfront at this point.

In an 8-3 vote Tuesday night, Virginia Beach City Council rejected a new proposal from United States Management (USM) to build the 18,000-seat venue.

USM requested changes to its financing plan. In order to receive approval, the changes needed support from a super-majority of council members, nine out of 11.

Only eight members voted in favor of the revised financing plan: Mayor William Sessoms and Council Members Ben Davenport, Bob Dyer, Shannon Kane, Amelia Ross-Hammond, John Uhrin, Rosemary Wilson and Jim Wood.

Vice Mayor Louis Jones and Council Members Barbara Henley and John Moss voted against it.

The city explained in a news release:

A super-majority is required whenever the City Council transfers land previously used for public purposes to the Virginia  Beach Development Authority. A key element of the arena plan is transferring 5.8 acres of city-owned land in the parking lot near the Virginia Beach Convention Center to the Development Authority. In turn, the authority would have leased that land to a private company, United States Management (USM), which would finance, build, own and operate the arena.

USM submitted its arena proposal in 2014. Council members approved a development agreement with the company in December 2015.

In June, USM proposed some changes to its private financing plan. The developer dropped a Chinese lender, choosing an American one instead. USM increased the size of the company’s loan. It originally proposed borrowing $170 million. Under the revised plan, USM would have borrowed up to $240 million. That amount included about $210 million for construction.

Although City Council agreed with this change, in principle, in July, it asked the developer to meet seven conditions.

USM failed to meet one of the seven conditions which required the company to finance the project with investment-grade bonds.  USM proposed contributing an additional $7.5 million in equity to the project. That was a change that the council members did not approve.

Mayor Will Sessoms told 13News Now the two key issues with the revised plan seemed to be the amount of cash and the amount of bonds.

"I'm not gonna say it's a no go. Certainly, that's what the vote indicates as we speak, but I'm gonna reach out to the council members that have voted against this, and ask them what they want, and then see if it's something I can take back to USM, and put this thing back together again," stated Sessoms.

United States Management provide 13News Now with this statement:

We are regrouping after this very unfortunate action. We thank the eight members who stepped up on behalf of this very great opportunity for the city, most of whom spoke very movingly and enthusiastically for the project. We are very proud of the three years of hard work that got us to this vote and are sorry for our citizens that their desire to have a world class entertainment and sports arena is in jeopardy.  Other than that we have no further comment on our next steps.

"That would be the biggest shame that could ever happen if it went to another city," Sessoms said. "Please, understand the vast majority of council supports this project. It's a matter of one vote that we need."



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