Will Phoebus' Mellen Street be the next Rehobeth Avenue or Duval Street?
While Virginia Governor "Taliban Bob" McDonnell and delusional Virginia AG Ken "Cooch" Cuccinelli endeavor to maintain Virginia's reputation as a non-gay friendly state, fortunately, there are elements within the state that want to change the situation. Indeed, there is growing recognition of the importance of the LGBT community in developing communities and cities that are magnets for what Richard Florida has termed the "creative class."
One example is the May 3, 2010, conference of the Virginia chapter of the American Planning Association held in Norfolk which specifically looked at the importance of LGBT businesses and the LGBT community in the revival of areas such as Norfolk's Ghent, Richmond's Carytown, and the Del Rey area of Alexandria. The conference even included a session on "Being Out . . . and In Business" which included two members of Hampton Roads Business Outreach ("HRBOR"), Virginia's only affiliate of the NGLCC, as panelists.
Now, for the first time to my knowledge a Hampton Roads city has specifically and enthusiastically sought the engagement of the LGBT community and LGBT investors/entrepreneurs in a revitalization effort.
One June 9, 2010 the City of Hampton Department of Economic Development invited HRBOR board members (I was an attendee) to a meeting to review the investment and development opportunities in the Phoebus area of the city. Phoebus, which was a bustling social and entertainment venue during World War II, and a small independent city until 1952, has the potential for pedestrian friendly development like Ghent, Carytown, the historic section of Rehobeth Beach, Old Town Key West and other areas that have become thriving LGBT and artistic centered neighborhoods and/or Phoebus will have increased water front and beach access, increased marina space, plus the continued draw of the Casemate Museum at the 19th century fort and the newly expanded American Theater (pictured right).
As for economic incentives, through, various programs investors can pursue loan programs, grant programs, and both state and federal historic tax credits (combined a 45% credit), plus favorable zoning that allows the construction of new, green vintage look properties for first floor commercial use and second and third floor residential use. Information on these programs can be found here and here.
As for marketing the area from a tourism perspective, Phoebus is centrally located and less than an hour from Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, Yorktown and Jamestown, as well as less than an hour from Virginia Beach. Situated at the first west bound exit from Interstate 64, Phoebus offers easy access for Norfolk shoppers/restaurant goers as well as the entire Virginia Peninsula population. Additional gay friendly accommodations will obviously be needed to make Phoebus a potential gay destination, but the city is looking into exactly that type of investment already.
Hampton is celebrating its 400 year anniversary this summer; its America's oldest continuous English speaking city. Of equal note, Hampton is also celebrating the city's first ever Diversity and Pride event this coming Saturday, June 19, 2010, at Millpoint Park in downtown on the waterfront, complete with the mayor and other city officials in attendance.
Will Hampton pull off this gay positive revitalization? Time will tell. But a good starting point already exists with a diverse population and existing restaurants, a great performing arts theater and other art venues, and interesting antique shops. In addition, one can hope that the City's endeavor will send a message to state officials like McDonnell and Cuccinelli that homophobia is not good for Virginia or for business.