Town Center at Virginia Beach Should Have Been Developed in the Same Way that Peninsula Town Center Was

I am a huge fan of Peninsula Town Center! While I like Town Center at Virginia Beach, I think that Peninsula Town Center is more accessible to the general public. For those unfamiliar with either, Town Center at Virginia Beach is a synthetic “downtown” built in the Pembroke neighborhood of Virginia Beach across from the Pembroke. It is not a finished project by any means, and is to be completed in a number of phases over time. The current iteration includes a performing arts theatre, hotels, retail, and commercial office space over 24 blocks. The result is a number of high rises where none had previously existed, and the look and feel of a traditional downtown in an area that was traditionally low rise.

Peninsula Town Center is a true lifestyle center consisting of low to mid rise buildings in Hampton, VA. The area was formerly served by the Coliseum Mall. While the number of stores and the amount of retail space at the Coliseum Mall has not increased with the construction of the Peninsula Town Center, the look and feel of the place has changed. What was an indoor mall was replaced by an outdoor mall. But instead of replacing the Coliseum Mall with a series of strip malls customers can actually walk in between buildings in an area that duplicates the feel of a small town with buildings that are no more than 4 stories in height. There is a parking garage, primarily for residents but customers can also park there. The streets in between the buildings is a single lane in each direction.

The developer of Peninsula Town Center teamed up with a company that was responsible for another project in Columbus, OH called Easton Town Center. Peninsula Town Center also includes a movie dining experience, CineBistro, which offers a dining experience that on the surface appears to rival that offered at Cinema Cafe, another movie theatre with dining options available in the Hampton Roads on both the Peninsula and the Southside. Plus the location in Peninsula Town Center includes a bowling alley! The stores at Peninsula Town Center are pretty big and the anchors include a Macy’s, JC Penneys, and Target. It wasn’t clear if the Target was actually part of the complex as another parking lot separates it from the rest of the development but I was able to confirm that it was from the Town Center website. Peninsula Town Center also has a branch of Bryant and Stratton, a for profit school that started off as a business college but has expanded to offer four year degree programs with locations throughout the country.

Peninsula Town Center does not have that “upper middle class” feel that Town Center in Virginia Beach does. One bedroom apartments, at $1,200, are cheaper than what you will find at Town Center in Virginia Beach (a bit higher, starting at $1,200 but going up from there). The stores are entirely different and in line with what the average person can afford; I went into H&M and walked out with 2 shirts for $13. There is a mix of restaurants that are on par with what is offered at Town Center in Virginia Beach, but there are also cheaper restaurants such as Chipotle (although arguably, Chipotle is across the street from the Town Center in Virginia Beach, as are cheaper restaurants; these restaurants just are not within “downtown” Virginia Beach).

I doubt that Town Center in Virginia Beach would duplicate the model set by Peninsula Town Center if and when the project is ever completed for a few reasons. One is that the low rise atmosphere of Peninsula Town Center is not in line with what the city wants to see happen in the Pembroke area. The other is that what is offered at Peninsula Town Center may come across as being “pedestrian” by the precedent already set. I doubt if Town Center would even include more retail in the future. There is entirely too much around it and it would be easier to demolish Pembroke and rebuild it to look like Town Center than it would be to compete against it. The support that people have for the mall is not going to let up any time soon, and clearly, the construction of Town Center did not pull anyone away from Pembroke, if anything the development simply added options that would appeal to a different demographic than what you would expect at Pembroke.