Atlantic Park

A new mixed-use development is rolling in to Virginia Beach.

Preliminary rendering of an office view of Atlantic Park.

Images courtesy of Alec Yuzhbabenko with Hanbury Architects

As a surfer might say, “the wind is on it,” meaning conditions are favorable. In the case of Atlantic Park, wind is pushing the force of memories and ambition into a 10-acre turning point for Virginia Beach. It’s a dramatic project intended to dock a new icon where an old one, The Dome, once hovered like a spaceship, luring in the Stones and Elvis and roller skating and Christmas pageants until its demolition in 1994. The site on Pacific Avenue has been a parking lot ever since, as the city rejected 10 or more different plans for its development. 

Now an international superstar, an up-and-coming architect, a 60-year-old competitive surfer, a locally grown development group, and other Virginia Beach natives are poised to bring Atlantic Park to their hometown. They call the $300 million project a transformative partnership between Venture Realty Group and the city. Atlantic Park is intended not only for tourists but also neighbors, who will find retail, restaurants, residences, green space, offices, a concert venue, and a steady series of waves for surfing students and competitors. 

The surf park will be the first of its kind on the East Coast and even more state-of-the-art than Spain’s Wavegarden, which members of the project team visited last year. “That’s a remarkable feeling, to be there surfing in a facility that a few years back you never thought would exist,” says the architect, Alec Yuzhbabenko. “You’re catching waves that are very close, if not identical, to ocean conditions, but they’re very accessible and at the touch of a button.”

Architect and surfer Alec Yuzhbabenko.

He continues, “So many people come to [Virginia Beach] but don’t get in the water because they’re afraid of what they can’t see. [Atlantic Park] will be a controlled environment. You will be able to learn without all the uncertainties of being in the ocean.” Major competitions and night surfing will add to the sport’s accessibility at Atlantic Park, and spectators will be able to watch the action from vantage points throughout the setting.

While the surf park aspect of Atlantic Park is its most unusual component, designs for a music arena called The Dome, with indoor and outdoor stages, are what caught the eye of Grammy Award-winning producer Pharrell Williams, who grew up in Virginia Beach and recalls the original geodesic Dome as a spark to his imagination. The musician and philanthropist is an investor in Atlantic Park and has unlocked a new level of interest. “A project like this is inspirational to the youth, as it illustrates the sum of shared dreams, supported creativity, and access to strategic resources,” says Williams. His goals to create learning and job opportunities in sound and film tie in with the project’s music venue as a launching pad for future generations.

That’s the premise—the promise that “it will evolve Virginia Beach from what it is to what it can be,” says Michael Culpepper, a managing partner with Venture Realty Group. “We want to promote and elevate a new design standard for the oceanfront. It’s a collective vision of people who are extremely passionate about our city and want to see something better.” 

Besides surfing and concerts, experiential attractions such as National Geographic Ultimate Explorer are in the mix. “It’s a complex Rubik’s Cube of so many different components,” Culpepper says. “Real estate, entertainment venues, a myriad of partners, and public investment—all of those ingredients make for a complicated recipe,” with the goal of converting the city’s Tourism Investment Fund into a long-term economic catalyst.

The past year of public engagement has led to surveys, doubters, and delays in a starting date, but no loss of enthusiasm for the partners—especially since the terms of the deal were approved in January. “It’s pushing every boundary possible for an area that’s reluctant to change,” acknowledges Yuzhbabenko, who grew up there. “This project is more than creating a place for someone to live, work, and play.”

At age 27, the Virginia Tech architecture graduate, whose academic thesis is the basis for Atlantic Park, says, “It’s sort of unbelievable.” He envisions “a chain of events that will unfold, a place that people will flock to. Pharrell is also passionate about our future generation. He’s passionate about education and about raising the next generation of leaders, of thinkers, of creative individuals. He saw the transformative potential of that idea.”

Atlantic Park holds similar appeal for Billy Almond, who surfs daily and is a landscape architect and the president of WPL Site Design. His plans for the project’s green spaces include ways to enhance flood resiliency, meaning water can be pumped out of the surf lagoon to allow it to take on rainwater during big storms. “This is not another brewery or mixed-use thing,” he says, nor another souvenir or vape shop. “This is about wellness of mind, body, and spirit.” Virginia Beach may have daily surfers, but “we rely on storms to get waves of any size,” Almond says, and Atlantic Park will be an attractive all-season complement. “We’re genuinely excited to do something different in Virginia Beach. This is about old surfers like myself, and kids learning to surf—what a great experience for all ages.” 

This article originally appeared in our June 2019 issue.

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