Newport News Seeks Commitment from US Navy on Downtown Military Housing

Newport News Shipbuilding is seen in Newport News, Va.
The Newport News Shipbuilding is seen in Newport News, Va., April 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Newport News recently secured a commitment from the state for a $40 million loan to support construction of U.S. Navy housing downtown, but the city is awaiting the Navy’s response on the project’s next steps.

The city’s intergovernmental affairs manager, Jerri Wilson, said Tuesday to her knowledge, the Navy has yet to officially commit to a specific course of action for downtown housing in Newport News. State and local officials previously stated the Navy could contribute up to $400 million to house sailors and revitalize downtown.

“I think the next step is for the Navy to say, ‘We are definitely going to build housing for sailors in downtown Newport News,’” she said.  “And what is that going to look like? The next step is for the Navy to say, ‘Here, this is what we want to do, and this is what we can or what we are willing to commit to it.”

Wilson discussed the loan, which was included in the budget passed by the General Assembly this year, during a council work session. The budget authorizes the Virginia Secretary of Finance to approve an up to $40 million short-term, interest-free, state-supported treasury loan to help support U.S. Navy-related housing infrastructure. The budget also says the Secretary of Finance shall approve and release the loan under the following conditions — the U.S. Navy has committed sufficient resources to fund the project, the city has provided matching funds for the project and the 75% of non-state funds secured for the project have been expended.

Mayor Phillip Jones told the Daily Press he is in discussions with the Navy and will soon travel to Washington, D.C., to engage with various stakeholders, including the entire Navy leadership team. He said he anticipates an answer from the Navy on the next steps and a timeline “very soon,” within the next 45 days.

“I would like to see an anchor institution that is able to, one, ensure that we have the highest quality of service for our sailors — for those who are on the front lines,” he said. “And number two, I want to transform this part of our community to bring life back to an area that was once booming and had a lot of businesses.”

The Navy was unable to make someone available for comment by press time for information on what the housing could entail or a project timeline.

Wilson said she hopes the development is not far out because the goal of downtown housing is “urgent.”  Last year, the Navy undertook a massive effort to improve sailors’ quality of life, including providing more options for off-base housing. This effort followed a wave of suicides of Hampton Roads-based sailors and a comprehensive investigation that concluded the Navy failed its own personnel on an individual and systemic level.

Newport News officials have previously said they hope the state investment could improve sailors’ quality of life.

Wilson said it remains to be determined how much the city will need to contribute to the project.

The final version of the budget said the loan could be used for “housing infrastructure” instead of just housing, which Wilson said was a good change because it is all-inclusive and includes “all of the things needed to make housing work.” Housing infrastructure could include elements like sidewalks and other amenities.

Wilson said securing the $40 million was a “nail-biter” as it was such a large dollar figure but noted that the state legislature was ultimately supportive.

Wilson also informed the council that the General Assembly passed legislation that would allow localities to offer unique benefits to businesses looking to locate within a military-centered community zone to serve the needs of military personnel.

Del. Marcia S. “Cia” Price, D- Newport News, who introduced the legislation, previously told the Daily Press that military employees don’t live in areas with many amenities, and this legislation could help provide incentives to bring businesses and their amenities to military-centered communities like Newport News. Wilson described the military-centered community zones as a potential “tool in the toolbox” for revitalizing downtown.

Josh Janney,

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