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Commercial Property Development in Anticipation of Norfolk Virginia's Light Rail Runs Parallel to Public Projects

Commercial Property Development in Anticipation of Norfolk Virginia's Light Rail Runs Parallel to Public Projects

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By Elaine VonCannon, ABR, SRES, Associate Broker, Notary, Team Leader, Property Manager, Award Winning Agent

The decision to build a light rail system into Norfolk, Virginia's infrastructure is practical and prudent. While other nearby cities such as Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and even Richmond struggle to create growth in down times, government leaders and commercial and residential developers have begun looking to Norfolk as example of what is possible in the future. Perhaps light rail will become a reality someday in Richmond and Virginia Beach. No definite commitments have been decided upon in either city, though the discussions on light rail in these cities is currently a hot topic. It is easy to see why an interest in light rail has re-emerged in Virginia Beach and Richmond.

Tourism Based Economies in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg Feel the Economic Slowdown

One simply has to look around in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg Virginia to see that builders are under stress to complete commercial investment projects that were financed before the banks tightened their grip on commercial lending. Some are slowed or halted while more funding is sought. Virginia Beach and Williamsburg are tourist driven economies who have felt the pinch of the recession. The new commercial building projects, once built, are standing vacant or only partially leased. This could be due to the erasure of many small businesses and downsizing and elimination of larger chains.

Could a Commitment to Light Rail be the Answer to Stimulating Local Growth?

While Virginia Beach and Williamsburg struggle for a piece of the commercial property development business, Norfolk Virginia is booming with life in the commercial sector. It is apparent to anyone who visits the downtown district of Norfolk, Ghent, or South Norfolk, that something big is afoot. When visitors walk or drive around, all they see are street closures and detours due to large construction projects.

Yet none of this would have been possible without the backing of the City of Norfolk and The Commonwealth of Virginia. Both entities have spawned large public projects, which, in turn have stimulated the private sector to move quickly in committing to large and small-scale construction projects. Some examples of public commercial development include Tidewater Community College's Student Center, a new Central Library for the City of Norfolk, and Norfolk State University's Student Center. All are being built well in advance of The Tide's opening and all of these structures are located in downtown Norfolk. A new health care center is being constructed by Sentara, in the Ghent section of Norfolk, which borders downtown. This project is in anticipation of a flagship, end of the line light rail station that will be located close to the present complex where Eastern Virginia Medical School and Sentara Hospital are situated. In the same vicinity, on and near Hampton Boulevard, old historic apartments have been purchased (by real estate speculators, or rehabbed by the present owners) and are being sold as condos. Commercial and residential investors are making sound investments because these properties will become more desirable and more valuable once light rail is up and running in 2010 because residents of the condominiums can easily walk to the light rail station in Ghent.

Downtown Norfolk in the Midst of Growth in Commercial and Residential Development

In downtown Norfolk, where the business district and the tourism industry support hotel occupancy, new commercial development projects in the hotel and housing sectors are well underway. These include a brand new Residence Inn by Marriot, a Hampton Inn, and the Westin Hotel and Conference Center -- all slated for construction and completion this year and next. While in other areas of the United States, luxury condominium projects are being halted or cancelled, downtown Norfolk is moving forward. Two examples of this type of growth are The Franklin Condominiums and Belmont at Freemason -- both within walking distance of light rail stations and both moving forward with construction, rather than delaying or eliminating building projects.

Will Virginia Beach and Richmond Commit to Light Rail?

It is no wonder that governmental and commercial development leaders in Virginia Beach are now casting an envious eye towards Norfolk, Virginia. While the City of Norfolk was still in the planning stages of building a light rail system many years ago, Virginia Beach was invited to participate and plan for the future. Yet nobody in the city government or private industry could rally behind the idea of light rail because people were convinced that light rail would be beneficial to the City of Virginia Beach -- the largest city in Virginia. How could this be? Nowadays, Virginia Beach is anxious to climb aboard the light rail project in earnest. Yet even if it is approved, planning for light rail could take some time. The City of Virginia Beach is now a step behind their sister city, Norfolk. Even in Richmond, there is now talk of installing a light rail system for easier access to the most heavily trafficked parts of the city.

Light Rail in Other Cities in the United States and Europe

In Northern cities in the United States and even in large European cities, light rail is clearly a clean, fast, reliable source of transportation for commuters, residents and visitors. Light rail has created growth in the commercial and residential development sectors wherever it is implemented. Why? Because people want and need alternative sources of transportation, and they will pay extra money to live nearby stations, so they do not even have to use their cars. Light rail saves time and money, and allows for more time to relax while making a commute. While recreating, there is no worry about drinking and driving when attending special events, dining, or visiting a bar. Taking light rail allows for more time to speak to people and get to know those who make the regular commute -- an advantage that many are missing by driving in private vehicles.

The time has come for light rail all across Virginia, not just in Norfolk. It seems that as the City of Norfolk makes this bold move forward, it will serve as a model for other nearby cities to implement a public transportation that is reliable and created for everyone.