Catch a wave – Virginia Business

Virginia Beach’s new economic development leader eyes opportunities

Elizabeth Cooper


“The future is extremely bright because of all the assets we have here,” says Charles “Chuck” Rigney, who was named Virginia Beach’s new economic development director in February after serving in an interim capacity for eight months. Photo by Mark Rhodes

After three decades recruiting businesses to Norfolk, Portsmouth and Hampton, Charles E. “Chuck” Rigney is tackling a new challenge: leading Virginia Beach’s economic development.

Rigney was named the Resort City’s permanent economic development director in February. It was one year after he joined the department as a business development administrator and eight months after he became interim director following the departure of the department’s former head, Taylor Adams, for a job in Nevada.

“The opportunity to work with the largest city in Virginia was greatly appealing,” Rigney says. “The future is extremely bright because of all the assets we have here.”

Virginia Beach is awash in major developments. Amazon.com is investing $350 million in the city on a robotics fulfillment center set to open in 2025 and a delivery station slated to start operations for this year’s holiday season. Last year, Zim Integrated Shipping Services said it would invest $30 million to relocate and expand its U.S. headquarters from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, while in November 2023 cloud-based document management company Doma Technologies announced a $4 million expansion that will add more than 300 employees. Also on the horizon: Dominion Energy’s $9.8 billion Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, additional digital transatlantic subsea cable landings, new Oceanfront hotels and the long-awaited Atlantic Park surf park development from the city’s most famous native son, the music star and fashion icon Pharrell Williams. 

It’s a full agenda, but one that Rigney, a 1979 Old Dominion University graduate who worked in banking and commercial real estate before entering economic development, relishes, especially as the city’s name and reputation grow. “The beach is pretty well known,” he says. “When I [travel] and get in a cab and say I’m from Virginia Beach, they know where I’m talking about. My job is to get it even better known.”

Rigney’s experience and demeanor make him the ideal choice to direct Virginia Beach’s economic development operations, says Doug Smith, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Alliance, the region’s economic development partnership. “He is a good listener, good team builder and understands the importance of getting input from the largest of stakeholders. Nowhere is that more important than Virginia Beach — the largest city in the region.”

Surf park’s up

While other cities where Rigney has worked are more urban and have had more experience with revitalization, Virginia Beach is just now beginning to look at redevelopment strategies. Open parcels of land are becoming fewer and fewer, Rigney notes: “We have to look at strategic growth areas where things can be done differently and transition older properties into new developments.”

That includes aging Oceanfront hotels. Developers are lining up to invest millions of dollars into redevelopment initiatives and asking the city to chip in for necessities like water and sewer and infrastructure improvements. Rigney wants to capitalize on that interest. He notes that 14 million visitors spent a record $2 billion-plus in Virginia Beach last year. “That’s a reflection of successful initiatives of the past,” he says, “but as properties age, more hotels are coming in, and more hotel rooms are needed.”

One prominent proposal comes from former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and Divaris Real Estate Chairman and CEO Gerald Divaris, who are proposing to build a 450-room hotel and parking garage on property the city owns on 17th Street. The city bought the parcel, which includes a public park and a Dairy Queen, for $12.8 million in 2022. McDonnell and Divaris’ plan would keep the park intact.

“That’s one of many proposals,” Rigney says, adding that talks to revamp the site are still in the early stages. “Any deal would have to go through numerous community meetings and refinement. It’s great to have serious guys like Gerald Divaris and Bob McDonnell interested, as well as other folks in our backyard. We’ll work with everybody to see how to take the city to the next level.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on the first phase of Atlantic Park, a $325 million mixed-use project being developed by Williams and Venture Realty Group. First announced more than six years ago, the surf park and music venue is set to open in spring 2025. Anchored by a nearly 3-acre surf lagoon, the project includes a 3,500-seat entertainment venue, retail space, offices and 309 residences on the former Dome music venue site between 18th and 20th streets. The second phase, still in development, will include additional apartments, parking, office and retail space and a boardwalk connecting the site to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk and 17th Street Park. “Atlantic Park is huge for us,” Rigney says. “It has spurred interest in the surrounding area and led to new growth.”

Williams, who last year became men’s creative director for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton, has been an avid promoter of his hometown, and is in the process of filming a big-budget musical film this summer in Virginia, based on his childhood growing up in Virginia Beach’s Atlantis Apartments. His Something in the Water music festival debuted at the Oceanfront in 2019 and returned in 2023, generating $50 million to $60 million in economic impact for the city over both years.

“He’s done an amazing thing for his hometown,” Rigney says, adding that Something in the Water and Atlantic Park have attracted many developers to Virginia Beach, giving his department the chance to show off the city. “If developers come to see us one time, we always make a short list of anything they need.”

Rigney is also excited about another park, this one at Rudee Loop on the resort area’s southernmost end. The roughly 8-acre site has been used for parking and as a staging area for large Oceanfront events, but last fall the City Council voted to transfer $4 million from the city’s tourism fund to create a public recreation area. “That will be a real showcase and ultimately will be a real selling point for the beach,” Rigney says. “It was exciting once the concept got in front of council to think about reserving an area for tourists and residents alike to enjoy an open space. You don’t need to always put buildings on things to make a thriving economic attractor.”

Conventional development

Redevelopment is also on the drawing board for the area around the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Earlier this year, the city approved a $75,000 study examining the impacts of a mixed-use sports and convention district around the convention center. It will also examine potential uses for the Parks Avenue home of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, which plans to move to a new site on Virginia Wesleyan University’s Virginia Beach campus in 2025.

Over the years, Virginia Beach City Council has prioritized the development of a convention center hotel, asserting that such a facility would position Virginia Beach to better compete for regional and national events. Maryland-based Capstone Development has proposed building a 300-room convention hotel adjacent to the convention center. Capstone’s project also would include more than 900 apartments and approximately 160,000 square feet of retail, creating an estimated 800 jobs.

Rigney is confident that a hotel eventually will be built on the site. “All of us understand that having a convention center hotel is long overdue and gives our convention center that much more of a draw,” he says. “One way or another we’re going to get a hotel.”

However, he adds, large-scale projects must complement current developments. “It all has to fit. We don’t want anything that will pull away from Atlantic Park and the ViBe [Creative] District.”

Looking to the city’s Central Business District, Rigney is eyeing the expansion of Virginia Beach Town Center. The 20-year-old mixed-use development, which includes corporate office towers, restaurants, shops and hotels, has thrived through economic downturns and the COVID pandemic. Offices there are completely leased, and, Rigney says, Town Center is ripe for growth. “If we don’t double the size of Town Center in the next 20 years, we probably will not have done as much as I would like to.”

Offshore wind, subsea cables

While tourism, defense and maritime/logistics form the pillars of Virginia Beach’s economy, Rigney is eager to add more legs in the form of offshore wind and subsea internet cables.

The city is working to attract manufacturers to Virginia Beach to support installation and maintenance of the 176 massive wind turbines Dominion Energy is installing for its Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project 27 miles off the Virginia Beach coast. “Almost everybody in wind energy knows Virginia Beach,” Rigney says. “We want to be able to hear them out and determine if our location is a fit for them.”

Next April, about 2,300 leading industry experts will descend upon Virginia Beach for the International Partnering Forum, the largest offshore wind energy conference in the Americas. Hosting the conference is a coup for Virginia Beach, Rigney says. “That puts us in league with cities like New Orleans, where IPF has been held.”

Meanwhile, the city’s status as one of the few East Coast landing spots for subsea internet transmission cables is starting to reap dividends. Globalinx opened a data center and cable landing station in 2019 and 2020 in the city’s Corporate Landing Business Park. The data center provides colocation space for high-speed subsea telecommunication cables MAREA, BRUSA and DUNANT, which connect Virginia with points in Europe and South America. In May, FiberLight, a fiber infrastructure provider, announced plans to establish high-speed ethernet service from the Globalinx data center.

A joint project from Venture Realty Group and Pharrell Williams, the $325 million Atlantic Park surf park and music venue
is slated to open in spring 2025. Rendering courtesy Hanbury

“Quite a few businesses are seriously considering Virginia Beach largely because of our location along the Middle Atlantic coast,” Rigney says. “We work closely with prospects in the data center business to see what their needs are and where we can put them. If we can get high-speed volume data companies to get a few milliseconds faster to market by being closer to the cables coming into Virginia Beach, it’s a big opportunity for us.”

Economic development efforts, however, are careful to align with the U.S. Navy’s footprint in Virginia Beach, especially Naval Air Station Oceana, the East Coast base for the Navy’s strike fighter jet squadrons.

“Because we want to ensure Oceana is here forever, we partner with the Navy to ensure there is no encroachment to make flight operations difficult,” Rigney says, noting that over the years, the city has purchased properties around the base, zoning them for compatible uses such as data centers and subsea cables. “That helps to monetize restrictive areas.”

Rigney also supports regional development efforts throughout Hampton Roads. As Virginia Beach’s interim economic development director, he convinced City Council to join the Eastern Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority (EVRIFA), a mechanism for pooling resources across multiple localities into site development opportunities that benefit the entire region. It wasn’t
a hard sell, he says.

“The city leadership recognizes we can partner with other cities in ways we have never done before,” Rigney says. “If there’s an opportunity to invest in a project that attracts a car manufacturer to Chesapeake, for instance, and we get a return from it, that’s a direct economic benefit on our investment.”

A longtime advocate for regional cooperation, Rigney is pleased to see increased collaboration among Hampton Roads municipalities. “We have a bunch of folks at the beach and in other communities who truly like each other. That cooperation will help raise the profile of the region.”

And he intends to be part of those cooperative efforts for quite a while. Discussing his plans to beef up the city’s economic development team with new business development managers, Rigney says he has no plans to retire any time soon.

“When I leave one of these years, I want to have a multitude of talent on board to take my place,” he says, “but I have no desire to quit. I love what I do and am passionate about doing it well.” 


Virginia Beach at a glance

Virginia Beach Town Center

Virginia’s most populous city and the 43rd largest in the United States, Virginia Beach encompasses 310 square miles, with 38 miles of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. A major East Coast tourism destination, Virginia Beach features a vibrant resort area on its Oceanfront. Along with tourism, major industries include defense, bio and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, maritime and logistics, IT and offshore wind energy. It’s also home to Naval Air Station Oceana, the East Coast base for the Navy’s strike fighter jet squadrons. Regent University and Virginia Wesleyan University are based in Virginia Beach, along with campuses for Tidewater Community College, Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University.

Population

460,000

Top employers

  • Naval Air Station Oceana-Dam Neck Annex (10,227)
  • Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story (5,020)
  • Sentara Health (4,900)
  • GEICO (3,600)
  • Stihl Inc. (3,300)

Major attractions

Virginia Beach’s 3-mile Boardwalk in the city’s Oceanfront area attracts tourists from around the world. Virginia Beach Town Center is a centrally located, major mixed-use development with hotels, restaurants, shopping and offices. Visitors also enjoy the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, which features live animal habitats and the six-story 3D National Geographic Theater. Other attractions include First Landing State Park, Cape Henry Lighthouse and the Military Aviation Museum.

Major convention hotels

The Founders Inn and Spa
40,000 square feet of meeting space,
240 rooms

The Cavalier Resort
26,912 square feet of meeting space,
400 rooms

Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront
25,000 square feet of meeting space,
305 rooms

Holiday Inn Virginia Beach – Norfolk
22,000 square feet of meeting space,
317 rooms

Wyndham Virginia Beach/Oceanfront
16,247 square feet of meeting space,
244 rooms

The Westin Virginia Beach Town Center
11,266 square feet of event space,
236 rooms

Notable restaurants

Becca Restaurant & Garden
American, contemporary, beccavb.com

Heirloom
Farm-to-table, heirloomvb.com

Orion’s Roof
Asian-fusion, orionsroofvb.com

Steinhilber’s
American, steinys.com

Tides Coastal Kitchen
Seafood, tidescoastalkitchen.com

Waterman’s Surfside Grille
American, watermans.com

Yiannis Wine & Food
Seafood, steaks, yianniswineandfood.com

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