Jillian’s Move: Good or Bad for Waterside?

28 12 2009

I think that it can be a good thing. Waterside needs to be remade into a venue that relates more to the original purpose of the building. They need a quality seafood place, independent shops (like “All About Virginia & More” and “All about Racing & More”), locally owned restaurants, and above all, LARGE  windows that give an open, public view of the waterfront. That is what the purpose of Waterside was and still should be. It is the same reason why we invest so heavily in Town Point Park. The waterfront is and ought to be the public’s domain.

Norfolk - mid-1980's - zoom in and pay close attention to the number of people at Waterside

The image above shows a Waterside full of people. It shows a Waterside tha tis not dependent on taxdollars to survive. That is what we need to rebuild. Do not tear the building down. Renovate it. Make it bright inside again.

Back to Jillian’s. They don’t need to be inside waterside. They should remain Downtown, but not in Waterside. Same goes for Hooters, Outback, and Joe’s. By themselves, they are all good places. They simply do not belong in a venue like the one that I have described. They can stay Downtown, definitely. In fact, it would improve Downtown as a whole to have those restaurants move OUT of Waterside and INTO a street-front property. The amount of pedestrian traffic would surely increase traffic and revenue to the other stores. This move is not an end, but a beginning. A good beginning.





HRT Mismanagement – A Day Late, A Dollar Short

26 12 2009

I didn’t actually think that I would be writing an article such as this. While I assumed that HRT was just as mismanaged as every other government-run organization in the region, state, or country, I also assumed that HRT would at least step up their game for this project. The HRT President and CEO, Michael Townes is a nice guy with good ideas. Unfortunately, whether his direct fault or not, he is the President and CEO, therefore making him ultimately responsible for the inner workings of HRT. This problem is deeper than Mr. Townes. If we ever want to have a strong, regional transit company, we need to get to the root of the problem. In my opinion, the root of this particular issue stems from poor project management. That is not Mr. Townes’s direct responsibility. The Tide has a project manager and a third-party consultant whose stated job is project management. All of this management should be held immediately accountable. First off, the consulting company is over budget. How in the world can we allow a company tasked with keeping costs under control  to go over budget? I consider that a failure. According to a story by WVEC, “Factors cited by HRT include unexpected conditions in the field, requests for design changes, underground utility relocation, consultant issues, and management problems.” I will go with the first three. Sh*t happens. but the final two are unacceptable. If HRT themselves can point out that consultant issues and management problems are the cause for part of our problems, why are these people still employed. It is my personal belief that when a person is hired for a job, they are to do that job. If they fail to do that job, they should be terminated. This applies to head executives as well as 7-Eleven employees. You are paid to do a job. Your employment agreement is a contract between you and your employer. A breach of contract should result in termination unless some rare circumstance exists. Fire the consultants and sue for the money back. As far as I am concerned, if your job is to keep an eye on the money and you instead rob us blind, you should be held accountable. Additionally, there are others that should be docked pay at a minimum. Take the Senior Vice President for Development, Jayne Whitney. Her HRT bio states that she is “currently responsible for the planning, engineering, design and construction and funding of major capital projects in the organization, including New Starts projects such as the Norfolk Light Rail project.” (By the way, Ms. Whitney, if you ever read this, could you please remind your webmaster that stating that you “began [your] professional career with VDOT and performed highway planning and public transportation planning,” just screams inept to this part of the state?)  Or look at Jim Price, Vice President of Rail Operations. What does he do right now? There are no “rail operations.” This means that either he sits on his hind parts all day (and we should lay him off) or he is actively involved in the management of this project (and should be held accountable).

Hampton Roads needs this to succeed. We cannot continue to allow waste and incompetence to drive our regional organizations. Bone fide mistakes do happen. I understand that.Especially when you work Downtown, you never know what is lurking underground. When you work in an office, however, and are tasked to not drop the ball, you should either do it or get out. SPSA, HRT, VDOT, each individual city council, the CTB, the General Assembly, etc. all seem to just maintain the status quo. In Hampton Roads this appears to be, “screw the taxpayers.” Light rail can and will work here. So will HRT. As citizens, however, we need to strongly voice our opinion that we want competent staff members before we want expensive ones with lofty resumes.





Fairfax Gets It, Why Can’t We?

9 12 2009

Fairfax recently released a new 10-year plan aimed at making transit travel more attractive the vehicle travel. The plan would increase service and frequency, create new routes, and use innovative techniques such as tying traffic lights to bus schedules, so that they never wait at lights. They also plan on utilizing dedicated bus lanes and fixed-route-style fare collection on some bus routes to speed the buses through stops. These new routes, including their already planned BRT routes, would work in unison with METRORail to make transit commutes faster than traditional, usually single-occupant, private car transportation.

My only question is why can Hampton Roads not come up with something this comprehensive. We did work on a plan for the future of transit but it seems to be viewed more as a dream and less of an actual this-is-what-we-need-to-work-for plan. Think about it. You see city after city create plans and actually follow them. Our area can do that too. Virginia Beach has been working on the Southeastern Parkway for 23 years now because it falls into their now-outdated plans to make the Corporate Landing office park successful. Why can’t we work this hard to make transit plans come through? If you ask any city, they will tell you that they want it to work, but nobody seems to be actually pushing for it.

In my opinion, the reason for the lack of drive for this issue is the lack of regional cooperation. Fairfax’s plan will work and has support because it only deals with one locality, Fairfax County. It ties into existing routes that go into other municipalities, but the plan itself, only expands service inside county lines. Here, however, our plan encompasses Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, James City County, and York County. In fact part of our Transit Vision Plan extends service toward Moyock, NC. How in the world do our leaders think that they can make something this expansive work if they can’t make simpler regional systems work. It is hard enough to get two cities to work on a bus route together let alone a system including both light rail and commuter rail. We need a functional regional government. If our localities could combine services and resources, we could actually overcome the problems that we face now. Look around. we are facing budget cuts all the time and money can no longer be guaranteed by the state. We have to help ourselves. Nobody else is coming to our rescue.





Transit Oriented Developments

7 12 2009

If you ever read the PilotOnlie comments, then you will know that there are just some people in Hampton Roads that just don’t get it. They just don’t get how there can be people who don’t want to live in a sprawling suburb. They just don’t get that there are actually people that want to move out of Virginia Beach and into Norfolk. They just don’t get that you actually should know what you’re talking about before you form an opinion.

Most recently, the Virginian-Pilot ran an article about HRT’s new facility that they were building. In fact, I have posted already on this. For a refresher, HRT’s new building was supposed to incorperate a mixed-use development, but now the developer is putting it on hold until the economy improves. My favorite comment so far is by the Virginia Beach Taxpayers’ Alliance’s  Vice Chairman and Transportation Chairman, Reid Greenmun. Now, this man is affiated with the VBTA, so we know that by default he is against all change and somehow wants the city to print its own money and stop wasting their tax dollars doing crazy things such as repairing schools/roads/etc. His comment is as follows:

Gosh, that must touted mythical TOD (Transit Oriented Development) HRT has been pitchinf to justify its light rail boondoggles is now shown for the myth it really was – and in this case HRT is not willing to stick with their own TOD plans! Gosh, if tens of millions of state, local, and federal taxes are available to be used to subsidize the planned HRT TOD project (LEADS “green” roof and all)- and HRT can’t make it happen with all that FREE tax money thrown into the “deal”, just imagine how unlikely it is that any PRIVATE developers will be able to find the hundreds of millions needed to build the promised TOD in VA Beach, along the old Norfolk Southern right of way. The light rail TOD ROI myth is being exposed for the sham it is – right here in River City folks!

As you can see, he (and the VBTA) is severely misguided on the concept of a TOD. If we follow his definition of a TOD, every neighborhood that happens to be built near a bus line is a TOD. This is completely and utterly wrong. In order to be a TOD, the development has to have been built because of the transit line that it sits near. The HRT mixed-use development was not being build because the buses ran through. It was being built because the developer saw potential for profit. This is the same reason that the other development  was built right across the street from the HRT building: not because of HRT, but because a developer saw profit potential in an underutilized area.

Existing Development between Granby St. and Monticello Ave. HRT building can be seen in bottom right corner.

Furthermore, if TOD were “mythical,” how can Mr. Greenmun explain actual TODs in Northern Virginia? Take the following example in Arlington, VA:

This TOD is located around the Ballston-MU Station located on the Orange Line of the DC METRO

This suburban neighborhood is located only one mile from the TOD, above. It is not located on a transit stop

TODs are not myths, as Mr. Greenmun believes. They are simply not well known around Hampton Roads because there are so few of them. They do exist here, however. Both the Belmont @ Freemason and the Wachovia Center developments are TODs. The Wachovia Center development is also a mixed-use TOD. Both of these projects have a Tide light rail stop on the same block. As Hampton Roads’s light rail lines grow and become well-used, these TODs will begin to sprout up along the routes. In fact, Virginia Beach is planning a TOD off of Newtown Road because of Norfolk’s light rail stop.

Wachovia Center (TOD) - Under Construction

Belmont @ Freemason (TOD) - Under Construction





VDOT’s Budget Cut Again

6 12 2009

Once again, the state is once again cutting money off of VDOT’s budget. This time, however, there is nothing left but bones. In fact, as early as 2011, Hampton Roads will get zero (you read that right) dollars for road construction. Statewide that same year, Northern Virginia would receive $225 million (93.2%) from VDOT. Even sooner, in 2010, the overall budget will grow 3% despite Hampton Roads’ funding getting cut another 13% for that same year! In 2010, Northern Virginia’s budget actually increases by 5%. Our luck would not change until 2015, when we get a whopping $100 million. Of course, seeing as 2015 is six years from now in the six year budget, our actual chances of seeing anything are very slim. When are we, as Hampton Roads residents going to stand up for ourselves? When will we decide that allowing Northern Virginia rob us blind is no longer acceptable? You know when? When we decide that we are a single, unified voice. Northern Virginia can say that, as suburbs of DC, they all need the same general projects to get by. Hampton Roads, on the other hand, can do nothing of the sort. Norfolk wants money for the Midtown Tunnel. Virginia Beach wants money for the Southeastern ‘Parked’way (which is what it really will be when it is full of traffic). Chesapeake wants a new Dominion Blvd. Portsmouth wants the MLK extended. Hampton wants the HRBT redone. Newport News wants I-64 expanded north. None of the cities here realize that we all need the same things to function. Without one of our major connectors, the whole place is gridlocked. Look at any interstate when one gets all lanes blocked during rush hour. The whole area shuts down. We can’t court new business if we don’t have a reliable road system. We need to work together as one region to secure our road money. We need to tell our legislature that Northern Virginia has robbed us enough and we demand our fair share. People here complain when a city spends tax money on something light Town Center, light rail, Downtown, etc., but they seem to have no problem paying taxes to a state that is ripping us off. Its not VDOTs fault. It is completely the legislature’s fault. We cannot allow current elected state representatives to serve another term. They have not fixed our problem yet and they will never fix it. Short of seceding from the Commonwealth of Virginia, regionalism and voting out our incumbents is our only option.





US Development – Preserving Norfolk’s Past

5 12 2009

The Virginian-Pilot has reported that a South Carolina company, US Development, has purchased the Union Mission building, formerly the Navy YMCA building. They plan on renovating the structure and converting the building into 90 apartments. These units will be priced for the middle class, starting at $800/month. In addition to this great move for the Union Mission building, the company also announced that they have similar plans for at least 4 additional historic downtown properties, totaling $100 million and 1,500 new apartments. This is a excellent opportunity for the City of Norfolk and its residents. The increase in affordable living space downtown will increase the amount of people that live downtown. Most of these new, middle-class renters will be more likely to walk where they need to go and/or take public transportation. This, in turn, will be better for downtown shops and restaurants, the mall, and even the upscale apartments and condos, which will be more desirable when the street-scape is flourishing.

Norfolk has spent so much time and effort erasing our past that we have already lost so many buildings. Not too long ago (2007), Norfolk demolished three historic buildings to construct a four-star hotel. At the time, they couldn’t wait. It just had to be done right then or the building would not get built and the world would end. So they tore them down. Going on three years later, the still-vacant lot sits, covered in grass and gravel. The city says that they are waiting for the economy. I wonder how they could be waiting if it was supposed to be built two years ago when the economy was good.

Regardless, it is about time that we had a developer who had an actual interest in preserving historic buildings instead of tearing them down. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new path for Downtown. The district will actually grow, without the city’s help. More residents are needed Downtown to truly make a successful downtown. It is a shame that our council could not see that. Instead, they tore down buildings and catered toward the wealthy and the upscale. All of that is nice, but it won’t survive without the people of the middle class.





HRT’s New Southside Facility

4 12 2009

HRT is in the process of building a new facility for Southside services. The old (really old) maintenance building still had the old trolley tracks in the floor. The new facility will be up to date and include everything that is needed to operate an efficient, safe bus system. In the future, the building will also include a mixed-use development with shops, apartments, etc. Once this project is completed, the mixed-use portion should bring people (especially pedestrians) down Monticello Ave. When new must be built, this is the kind of development that needs to be considered to bring Norfolk into the future instead of stagnating in the past.

18th Street Facility

15th Street Facility