Atlantic Avenue is one of Virginia Beach’s most well-known and loved streets, but it is rapidly changing to fit the expanding numbers of tourists coming to visit Virginia Beach’s natural beauty. The street carries nearly 19.9 million visitors annually, to the beach and many amenities around it. Atlantic Avenue houses hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, entertainment, and residences while bringing economic vitality as well as liveliness to the oceanfront. It is truly the heartbeat of the resort area.
Billy Almond, a Principal landscape architect at WPL, has lived and worked in the Virginia Beach area his entire life. He gave us insight to the history of Atlantic Ave and how he believes it will change in the future.
History of Atlantic Ave
Atlantic Avenue was built in 1888 as the boardwalk was first constructed and began accommodating more tourists. Over time, as more visitors came to visit the oceanfront, the footprint and road alignment of the resort area shifted. Before 1965, the City of Virginia Beach (CVB) was much smaller, starting at 1st Street and running to 42nd Street, as the rest of the existing city was part of Princess Anne County. Even though the city was much smaller, it utilized Atlantic Avenue as a ‘main street’ artery that carried people to and from the beach while connecting them with rare experiences.
Atlantic Avenue continued to evolve; unplanned for many years until the city saw the need for a more methodical organization and deliberately planned corridor. This was due to constant traffic congestion, problems with stoplights, and issues with some of the businesses encroaching upon the street. In 1980, the city hired EDAW Landscape Architects and Planners (now part of AECOM), a internationally recognized firm to create a beautification streetscape masterplan. This plan was controversial among the residents of CVB and took about 10 years to be fully implemented. It consisted of sign ordinances, traffic calming measures, trees, and other site elements to liven up the street by the 1990s. In the early 2000s, a series of trolleys were introduced to the oceanfront; they went away for a brief period before being reintroduced in 2015. The trolleys changed the traffic patterns of Atlantic Avenue. They took up the outer Northbound and Southbound lanes of Atlantic along with creating a lane that could also be utilized for bikers.
Atlantic Ave Now
Fast forward to today, Atlantic has continued to develop and change with the influx of visitors coming to the beach. A few programs such as BeachStreetUSA and “Live on Atlantic” have contributed to the continuing vitality and vibrancy of Atlantic Avenue. Atlantic Avenue is currently home to the resort area and many iconic family destinations. Driving along Atlantic Avenue, you are reminded that you have finally reached the beach and of all the excitement the beach holds. This year, more people are flocking to the beach after a year of staying inside and are excited to make lasting memories along Virginia Beach’s oceanfront.
The Future of Atlantic Avenue
With the ever growing tourism industry, Atlantic Avenue needs to be able to accommodate this future growth and we can do so by implementing smart growth measures. WPL has recently been working with other consultants on the Resort Area Mobility Plan (or RAMP Study) to look at the challenges presented around the resort area, including Atlantic Avenue. As RAMP continues to promote the evolution of Atlantic into a world-class destination, the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan 2030 (RASAP) has also been adopted for the further continuation of these goals. Below, you can see an oceanfront sense of arrival concept that WPL has designed for the RASAP. The City of Virginia Beach is largely drawing inspiration from Hendersonville, NC’s Main Street in a recent revitalization program in order to reimagine Atlantic for the future generations to come. As more people visit and move to the area, the goal is to change the traffic patterns and calm traffic, so that it can be a more fluent flowing street. Reimagining the street is a tough process but as Atlantic Avenue introduces the world to Virginia Beach and it needs to represent the city as a whole. Studying the history of the street and learning more about it is the first step to creating a streetscape that lasts, while promoting experiences of a lifetime.
Header Image Credits: Virginian-Pilot Archive (circa 1979)