The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Sunday, July 31, 1994                  TAG: 9407290281
TYPE: Cover Story 
                                             LENGTH: Long  :  210 lines


JACKIE PAVEY HAD BEEN SHOPPING all morning, before finally plopping down on one of the wooden benches inside Pembroke Mall, her stuffed Sears bags crumbling to the floor.

It was just before noon and the temperature outside was approaching 100. But Jackie sat cool and collected, while her husband, Ed, was off to get himself an ice cream cone.

Pavey, a Virginia Beach school cafeteria worker, and her husband, a mechanic, live at Chesapeake Beach. Pembroke Mall is where the former Princess Anne High School graduates shop most because it's closest to where they live. But where would they go if they wanted to shop ``downtown?''

``I thought the Oceanfront was downtown,'' joked Pavey, who was born and raised in Princess Anne County. ``If I wanted to go downtown, I'd go to Norfolk.''

Welcome to Virginia Beach. An East Coast tourist mecca. State's largest city. Tons of people. Plenty of shopping centers. Two big malls. But no downtown.

Not yet, anyway.

Whether Pavey realized it or not, she was sitting in the heart of the ``Central Business District,'' known to some as ``downtown Virginia Beach.''

``We have come a long way in the last 10 years, and we still have a long way to go,'' said Gerald S. Divaris, ``but progress has been made.''

Divaris, president of about a dozen local, national and international real estate development companies and a major land holder in the Pembroke area, is referring to his and others' efforts to transform about 500 acres around Pembroke Mall into the city's recognized center for financial, commercial and cultural activities.

``There's 780,000 people within a 10-mile radius of us,'' said Divaris from his office near the top of One Columbus Center, the district's only high-rise office building. ``But time is very much of the essence.''

IT'S NOT THAT DIVARIS, who moved to Virginia Beach from South Africa 10 years ago, is an impatient man. But he is eager to see the fruits of seeds sown 21 years ago, when the city allowed the area around the busy intersection of Virginia Beach and Independence boulevards to be rezoned for a high-rise office park, the genesis of the Central Business District.

And even before that, the area was establishing itself with the opening in 1956 of Aragona Village Shopping Center on Virginia Beach Boulevard. It was said to be the first ``full line'' shopping center in what was then Princess Anne County.

That was followed in 1965 by Pembroke Mall, ``which was the first enclosed regional mall in southeastern Virginia,'' according to Robert D. Renard, vice president of Pembroke Commercial Realty.

Originally, the mall contained two anchor stores, Sears and Miller & Rhoads, and the main concourse between them was enclosed, said Renard. There were, however, additional open air tenant spaces that faced the mall's north side. A 60,000-square-foot addition was built in 1981, at which time the mall's entire interior was refurbished.

Five years later, Hess's joined the mall, more tenant spaces were added and all outdoor tenant spaces were enclosed. Today, it encompasses 700,000 square feet.

While the mall was coming of age, the area across the boulevard was still in its infancy. It didn't begin to take shape until 1972 when the City Council ``recognized the Pembroke area's potential as a commerce center and rezoned a portion of the area as the Central Business District,'' said Pearl Smith, executive director of the Central Business District Association.

``In 1986,'' Smith continued, ``a small group of prominent Virginia Beach businessmen recognized the need for an entity which would bring cohesion and direction to the emerging CBD, and the Central Business District Association was formed.''

Shortly thereafter, the Central Business District Commission was formed. It included: Michael C. Ashe, William J. Cashman, Gerald S. Divaris, Ernest E. Hanson, Richard Jachens, W. Robert Jones, Charles R. Krummell, Richard E. Olivieri, Alfred M. Randolph, William H. Schlimgen and James F. Willenbrink. Ex-officio members were: Fred G. Benham, E. Dean Block, Thomas M. Martinsen Jr., John D. Moss and William D. Sessoms.

Interaction between local businessmen and the city was imperative if the Central Business District was to become a reality. The commission recognized that more public and private interest, and investment, in the project was needed.

To that end, the commission prepared a master plan for the district, and presented it to the City Council in March 1991. Four months later, the council accepted the plan by unanimous vote and referred it to the Planning Commission to consider implementing.

ONLY NOW IS THAT plan turning into bricks and mortar.

Columbus Village, a 16-acre shopping and entertainment center, is currently under construction at the end of Columbus Street next to the 32,000-square-foot Planet Music store, which opened last year in the former Hechinger's building. The new center will be anchored by a 12-screen movie theater, a Barnes and Noble bookstore, restaurants and retail shops.

An opening is set for the end of this year.

While commercial developers like Divaris are beginning to build, the city is getting into the act as well.

In January, the City Council approved building a $1.3 million ``regional stormwater retention basin,'' or large pond, to be built between Columbus Street and the railroad tracks. Work is set to begin soon on the lake, which would collect stormwater runoff from parking lots and streets.

The Columbus Village center will be one of the first to hook up and will pay the city $198,000 in prorated fees. The city hopes to attract other developers to the area, who would pay the prorated fees so the city could recoup its investment.

The central retention pond is designed to make the area more attractive to businesses, which would otherwise each have to build their own stormwater drainage systems.

Financing details for future city investment in the district, as well as incorporating the project into the city's Economic Development department's current marketing strategies, still have to be worked out, according to city Planning Director Robert Scott.

``There needs to be a hand-in-hand with the public and private sectors,'' Scott said of the financing. ``We will be challenged to put into place a public involvement schedule (tax) that is consistent. But, if we don't invest in projects like the Entertainment Center, there's a good chance that the Pembroke area will go downhill.''

The city will look at ways of financing improvements to the district, possibly using a special tax similar to the Tourism Growth Investment Fund, which is paying for almost $100 million worth of improvements to the Oceanfront. Only businesses in the Central Business District would be affected by the tax.

Next, the district's vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns would be studied, parking needs evaluated, new lighting considered, and new streetscaping and landscaping would be engaged.

``It's obviously a long-term project, way farther off than 10 or 20 years,'' said Scott.

WILLIAM J. CASHMAN JR., current president of the Central Business District Association, admits there's some financial risk early on for the city, but he adds that any investments made now will pay for themselves over and over again.

``It's not some pie-in-the-sky projection,'' said Cashman.

He estimates that it will take between $40 million and $50 million, with almost half of it going for landscaping to finish the project 20 or 30 years down the road.

But within the next three years, Cashman predicts, the community will notice changes, including streetscaping and landscaping to create an urban development zone.

Divaris and Cashman both envision a ``Central Park'' being built in the woods at the loop's center to complement the lake, and a pedestrian walkway erected over the boulevard between the mall and offices. And they want to see a light rail commuter system established, which would provide a vital link to other population centers.

It's all part of creating a ``pedestrian-friendly'' atmosphere and a more attractive and spacious setting than traditional downtowns.

Divaris prefers to call it an ``uptown'' concept and insists that it is not meant to compete with Norfolk's downtown business district.

``An uptown is much more of a planned city center than one that has just evolved,'' Divaris said.

Scott agrees: ``It will not, should not, cannot be something of the nature of downtown Norfolk.'' ILLUSTRATION: Staff photos by CHRISTOPHER REDDICK

Color photos on the Cover

This view from the roof of the Columbus One building in the Central

Business District of Virginia Beach shows Pembroke Mall, K-mart

Shopping Center and Pembroke East Shoppes.

The same vantage point shows the new Planet Music store and

construction of new theaters.


An artist's rendering shows the $1.3 million ``regional stormwater

retention basin'' to be built between Columbus Street and the

railroad tracks. The pond makes the area more attractive to

businesses, which would otherwise have to build their own stormwater

drainage systems.


Columbus Village, a 16-acre shopping and entertainment center, is

currently under construction at the end of Columbus Street next to

the 32,000-square-foot Planet Music store, which opened last year in

the former Hechinger's building. The new center will be anchored by

a 12-screen movie theater, a Barnes and Noble bookstore, restaurants

and retail shops.

This photo, taken from the west side of the Columbus One building,

right, shows the intersection of Virginia Beach and Independence



1973 - City rezones the Pembroke area, to be known as the Central

Business District, to allow for the development of a metropolitan

center for financial, commercial and cultural activities.

1979 - Robert Eigen, a New Yorker, develops Columbus Center and

Hechinger's (now the home of Planet Music).

1983 - One Columbus Center, an 11-story office building, opens.

1986 - Central Business District Association forms.

1989 - City Council endorses association's concept plan and

allocates $150,000 to create a CBD commission.

1991 - City Council accepts CBD's master plan for the Pembroke


1994 - City begins implementing master plan by agreeing to build

$1.3 million stormwater retention pond.


by CNB