It's not often that the FBI walks into Virginia Beach and opens a criminal investigation of a City Councilor’s votes. Then again, it’s not often an elected official votes to give millions of dollars to developers, who then hire his wife to market houses crucial to the project’s success.
Rarer still is when the elected official takes that vote just minutes after hearing his wife's boss announce he’ll build those homes. The Council even received photos showing the houses would be modeled after a similar project that employed the Councilor’s wife as head of marketing — the same job she wound up with at the Cavalier development.
When City Councilor John Uhrin arrived at City Hall on July 2, 2013, he did much more than just vote to give Cavalier Associates, LLC, the largest upfront taxpayer incentive in the city’s history. Uhrin’s vote unintentionally opened a window into the inner workings, backroom negotiations and financial wrangling that for a decade has become the shameful signature of Virginia Beach government.
And it’s all published here, for the first time. Courtesy of a federal subpoena, the FBI and Virginia’s weak, but still sufficient, public records laws.
This website was formed simply because we the citizens of Virginia Beach have had enough. We’ve had enough of taxpayer-funded projects that promise one thing but deliver something much different. Take a look at these documents and decide for yourself whether the Cavalier Hotel will open up in the Spring of 2016, as promised. Drive down Atlantic and Pacific Avenues and see if the historic Cavalier Lawn is being “maintained as green space and open space in substantially the same form as it currently exists.” The city paid $2.4 million to preserve the lawn as we all remember it, according to the development agreement, part of an overall taxpayer contribution that could total $36 million when the hotel is up and running.
Just drive by and decide for yourself if that’s what taxpayers expected, or what the agreement demanded.
Read appointment calendars that show Mayor Will Sessoms and former City Manager Jim Spore scheduled Cavalier meetings at the developer’s headquarters even after the mayor recused himself from voting because he had a conflict of interest. Read criminal subpoenas served on the city by a federal grand jury, then ask if the city should change the way it does business.
And read e-mails and land records that show a firm run by a member of the Cavalier Task Force — an independent body formed to protect the city’s interests – was working for the Cavalier developers at the same time, but never told anyone about the dual roles.
This website was formed because we’ve had enough of our elected officials trading away our beachfront rights — some of the most valuable and sought after land on the East Coast — to their same few friends for far less money than they are worth. Why is Hampton Roads among the worst for economic growth in the entire state of Virginia, when we have so much more to offer?
Because we’ve long ago traded capitalism for cronyism.
The documents published here are all public record, free to any citizen willing to ask. They are copies of what the city turned over to federal prosecutors, the FBI and to the Virginia State Police during at least two criminal investigations of our elected officials.
Here you’ll see a city engineer say that the city’s grant to build 968-feet of roadway was so inflated the developer could use “gold-leaf pavers” and still build the road for lower cost. Ask yourself — and your elected officials — why they voted to give the developers $2.5 million to build a road when one city estimate pegged the actual cost as being up to $1 million cheaper?
These documents also show that the city’s point man for the project asked the developer if he may have work for his son’s firm in the midst of a multi-million-dollar negotiation on city incentives. Two months later that staff member, Barry Frankenfield, wrote a series of e-mails stating that the city could “edit out” and "tone down" critical comments made by its own engineers that questioned safety and financial aspects of the development.
As you read this it’s important to remember that none of the developers mentioned here, or in any city project, have done anything wrong. It’s their job to get the best deal possible, just as it is the elected officials’ responsibility to protect the city and its residents. One side is simply far better at its job.
This website is here because the taxpayers of Virginia Beach have been pushed aside for too long as the same few developers and our elected officials make deals behind closed doors while saying, "trust us."
Well, those days are over. And with Light Rail, the 15th Street Pier, the 27th Street boondoggle and so many more projects on the horizon, we’re just getting started.