Henrico Board authorizes negotiations over indoor sports, convocation center

Proposal by Rebkee could spur revitalization of Virginia Center Commons

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized negotiations for an indoor sports and convocation center that would be developed on the property of Virginia Center Commons mall.

With its unanimous vote, the board accepted the recommendation of a working group and County Manager John A. Vithoulkas to enter formal talks with The Rebkee Company. The real estate development firm was one of three companies to respond to Henrico’s request for proposals for a venue that could host indoor sports and other large gatherings, such as high school graduations.

A working group established to guide the county’s review said Rebkee’s submittal represents the best and clearest statement of interest in a site for a facility. 

In addition, an indoor sports and convocation center at Virginia Center Commons could become “the centerpiece of an exciting, timely, and needed redevelopment proposal for an otherwise aging and underperforming retail shopping mall,” said Neil Luther, director of the Division of Recreation and Parks and chair of the working group.

Further details, including the venue’s size, seating capacity, cost and whether it would involve new construction or adaptive reuse of the existing mall, would be determined during the negotiation phase. Officials anticipate the venue would occupy only a portion of the mall’s existing footprint.

Henrico has been exploring the development of an indoor sports and convocation center since mid-2018 to expand the county’s sports tourism program, which generated about $54 million in local economic activity in 2018. Six groups responded to an initial request for proposals under the Virginia Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act. After initial talks failed to secure a site for the facility, Henrico invited the groups to submit revised proposals that would include a controllable site.

In addition to Rebkee, Eastern Sports Management, LLC and MEB General Contractors, Inc. provided new proposals in October.

The working group found that Rebkee’s proposal offered the strongest overall location with acreage to meet both building and parking needs, according to an overview prepared by Luther.

“Most importantly, however, the opportunity to redevelop [Virginia Center Commons] into both a centrally located public facility and a future retail and hospitality economic engine … is a generational opportunity that cannot be matched by any of the other proposals,” he said.

Also Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors introduced amendments to the fiscal 2019-20 budget that would provide up to $50 million for an indoor sports and convocation center. The board will hold a public hearing on the amendments Tuesday, Nov. 26.

The county is considering financing the project through lease revenue bonds that could be considered by the Board of Supervisors early next year and issued through the county’s Economic Development Authority.

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