Saturday, December 9, 2023

Optimism, but also an age-old concern: Where will everyone park at the Oceanfront during the Pharrell thing

VIRGINIA BEACH — City leaders and business owners at the Oceanfront are optimistic that Something in the Water, the Pharrell Williams-backed festival slated for April 26-28, will lift up businesses and attendees of College Beach Weekend.

With that optimism comes concerns. Mainly, parking.

Laura Habr, owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro at the Oceanfront, said worries among restaurant and shop owners focus mainly on ensuring they have what they need for the festival.

“We’ve just been focusing on making sure staff can get to work on time and access the property, making sure we’re stocked with supplies to meet the needs, stuff like that,” Habr said.

Habr is also a member of Virginia Beach’s Resort Advisory Commission, which provides guidance to City Council on resort matters.

Concerns about parking and getting workers to their jobs was echoed by Brandon Ramsey, owner of Peabody’s at 21st Street and Pacific Avenue. Ramsey sits on the RAC subcommittee on transportation, parking, and pedestrians issues.

“Off-site parking for employees and figuring out a way to get them here,” are the biggest challenges for his business during the festival weekend, Ramsey said. “We could see gridlock here even if you’re leaving your car at home and being dropped off by an Uber. So the question is,” for Ramsey’s employees, “how close will they be able to get to work, before they have to start walking?”

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Ramsey said “a strong majority” of the approximately 45 employees at Peabody’s will be working on any given day during the festival.

Festival organizers have created a plan that buses people from remote parking lots and areas to the festival. A comprehensive parking plan for the weekend has yet to be released by the city or festival organizers.

Something in the Water — even when combined with College Beach Weekend, as it will be in April — will not be the first major festival for many veteran business owners at the Oceanfront. But it will be unlike anything the Oceanfront has seen.

“This year it’s going to be like several festivals all rolled one,” Habr said. “Like Fourth of July, a music festival, and a marathon at the same time for us.”

College Beach Weekend has aroused passionate opinions from city officials, residents and Oceanfront business owners in past years. The event, typically the last weekend in April, is not hosted or sanctioned by the city, said City Manager Dave Hansen.

In 2017, Hansen said “incidents of violence, heavy traffic, litter and rude behavior have cast a negative view” over the event and the city.

Something in the Water is meant to add structure to the weekend, which is one reason Habr and Ramsey are optimistic about College Beach Weekend this year than in past years.

“The alternative is nothing,” Ramsey said. “We can either do the same thing over and over and expecting different results, or we try and do something big that might transform the whole Oceanfront.”

That’s because structure brought by the festival will provide the city with valuable data about crowds, ticketed events for the festival will act as crowd control tools, and programming gives students something to do, which could create a more positive atmosphere among attendees, Ramsey said.

Together, that infrastructure and programming has calmed some of the anxiety of business owners by helping them better plan for the weekend.

“I know that being optimistic in this case is a far better way to be,” Ramsey said. “I think all the businesses at the Oceanfront are carrying a great deal of optimism.”

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