When he was young, Pharrell Williams said he would drive past the Dome site with his grandmother on her way to clean offices. He remembers listening to music there too before the venue was torn down in 1994.
Now the music superstar is involved in a project that’s going to transform the parking lot into a surf park as well as a place for people to live, shop, work and hear live music.
“There is a lot of symbolism to be able to build something that is so monumental and is such a magnet for our city where the Dome site was,” Pharrell said in a FaceTime interview on Tuesday with The Virginian-Pilot. “To me, it’s ironic. It’s poetic.”
The musician known for his hit “Happy” wore a pink hoodie and a baseball hat that said “PLANT” on it. He spoke to The Pilot from Paris.
The Virginia Beach Development Authority voted Tuesday to take a shot at building a surf park at the Oceanfront’s Dome site, which the city hopes will become an iconic entertainment district. The Development Authority owns the 10-plus acres where 18th and 20th streets meet Pacific and Arctic avenues.
Virginia Beach entered into an exclusive agreement for six months with Venture Realty Group to see if the company can deliver the ambitious project. The deal expires on May 21.
Pharrell will be involved with planning, designing and branding the entire concept of the project, said Donna MacMillan-Whitaker, a managing partner of Venture Realty Group.
Pharrell said he jumped at the opportunity because he realized it would change the flow and energy of the city.
“I got involved for the critical opportunity to watch our city expand,” he said. “There has always been an incredible and an enormous growth potential there.”
Pharrell said he has paid attention to the city’s struggle to complete major entertainment development projects. He said he thinks it’s long overdue, but that great things take time and vision.
“I am super proud of our city because they have proven today that they have the vision,” Pharrell said.
The city has been trying to find a private company to develop the site for more than two decades.
A committee made up of city staff as well as members of the Development Authority and the City Council vetted four proposals before narrowing it to one.
The council does not have to take any action until more details are worked out, but members discussed the project on Tuesday afternoon in a meeting closed to the public.
Determining how much the city will pay for public parking garages will be a critical component. Other financial incentives could be considered, too.
The entire project is estimated to cost $275 million to $300 million, MacMillan-Whitaker said. The surf park alone will likely cost $20 million.
It could take up to a year and a half before the financing is firmed up, she said. If all goes as planned, she said spring 2019 is the earliest the company would break ground. For the next year and a half, the development group will hire contractors to do analyses on the traffic, parking and retail needs.
Ron Williams, a deputy city manager, said that preliminary negotiations with the group began in August. He said Venture’s proposal met the city’s requirements.
The project could help Virginia Beach become a year-round tourist destination – a goal he said it has been chasing “for more than 30 years but still have not quite achieved.”
The city envisions the surf park and entertainment district anchoring the 19th street corridor and finally accomplishing another long-awaited goal: to develop the Dome site.
Pharrell said this project will be the one that sticks.
By Alissa Skelton
Alissa Skelton, 757-222-5155, firstname.lastname@example.org