Two months after the first published reports of John Uhrin's votes on the Cavalier Hotel project, the FBI began a criminal investigation. Here are the subpoenas issued by the FBI and a federal grand jury. The most recent subpoena is published here for the first time. At the bottom of the section is a verbatim transcript of the July 2, 2013 vote authorizing the city's incentives for the Cavalier Hotel. The first speaker is Bart Frye, the developer of the East Beach luxury home project in Norfolk. Frye is a longtime employer of Uhrin's wife, and at the meeting he announces he will build homes homes on the Cavalier property. The final speaker is Uhrin, who makes a motion to approve the project minutes after Frye announces he is part of the project.
Ever wonder how a narrow, 968-foot section of Cavalier Drive could cost taxpayers $2.5 million? Well, take a look. Turns out the City Council voted to give all that money to the developers of the Cavalier based on nothing more than an educated guess. No design plans were formed before the vote, and the city did not seek competitive bids or issue a call for proposals. In fact, the initial estimate apparently fluctuated from $1.5 million to $2.5 million in a matter of days. All of that is included here. Even the city's own engineer said his initial estimate was so padded that "if we add a lane or go with gold leaf pavers, we've got it covered." Gold leaf pavers? Just put it on the taxpayer's tab and write a check to the developer. As you read these pages, take note of the following: 1. When city engineers raised questions about the safety and legality of some aspects of the project, senior city staff edited out negative comments and instructed staff to make sure the the project won approval. City leaders also told public works to "tone down" its criticisms. 2. City staff and the City Attorney said a number of changes sought by the developer would need City Council approval. The city manager's office approved the changes without informing the council. 3. One member of the development team sought a waiver of sidewalk requirements because one model home was so close to the street a sidewalk wouldn't fit. 4. The city agreement called for any money left over from the $2.5 million Cavalier Drive construction to be returned to taxpayers. Instead, the city manager's office approved letting the developer use the leftover money on an adjacent portion of the project. 5. If the city's estimate for the true cost of Cavalier Drive was accurate, how could there have been any money left to transfer, even before the construction began?
The state's GAP financing program -- designed as a way to rebate sales to developers of especially important projects that are unique and promote tourism -- has made headlines in recent weeks. That's largely because of the controversy surrounding a proposed hotel project by Armada Hoffler developers at 27th Street in Virginia Beach. This section looks at the Cavalier, the first project in the city to receive such a tax break. You will see the Cavalier's application for the tax rebate, and state regulations mandating that all financing must be in place before approval. The Cavalier did not have financing in place when applying two years ago, and in fact didn't receive its $77 million loan from TowneBank until Feb. 3, 2016. That loan was given just weeks after Armada Hoffler's application for the same GAP approval was initally rejected by state regulators.
This section includes the Cavalier application, bank records, internal calculations and city and state e-mails. The final documents relate to the $77 million loan from TowneBank, and filings involving various Cavalier partners.
Planning Director Barry Frankenfield designed the city's financing package that gives developers of the Cavalier Hotel $18 million in initial grants and incentives, and also helped write plans to give them an additional $18 million in tax rebates after the hotel is up and running. On July 24, 2013 – two days after Bruce Thompson's investment group purchased the hotel with help of an approximately $11 million wire transfer from taxpayers – Frankenfield e-mailed Robert Howard, Thompson's Chief Investment Officer. Frankenfield congratulated Howard on the purchase and the success of all his projects, then asked if the Cavalier developers had any interest in hearing a pitch from his son, who worked at a financial services firm. “No pressure”, Frankenfield wrote. Howard asked him to send the contact information.Two months after that exchange, Frankenfield told city engineers to “tone down” comments critical of aspects of the project. He suggested that other critical comments could be edited out of city documents. In the weeks and months that followed, Frankenfield continued working with the developer to secure zoning variances, permits and the additonal state tax rebate, known as GAP financing. When the city found out about Frankenfield’s solicitation, he was reprimanded, according to the Southside Daily website, Virginia Beach’s independent watchdog news organization. But after being reprimanded, Frankenfield was promoted to City Planning Director, according to Southside Daily.
A member of the Cavalier Task Force – a volunteer advisory board charged with protecting the historic hotel and the city’s interests -- runs a firm serving as a sub-contractor for the development team. Bill Almond is president of WPL, an engineering and landscaping firm that did survey work on the project months before he resigned from the task force, according to records and his own resignation letter. Almond’s firm is doing landscaping on Cavalier Drive.
The records show that on June 6, 2013, Almond attended a Cavalier Task Force meeting at which Deputy City Attorney Steve Herbert discussed expensive additions to the Cavalier Drive’s landscaping. Almond said nothing at the meeting, according to the city's official minutes of the meeting. On that same day – four hours later -- Almond attended another city meeting, this time as a member of the Cavalier development team discussing zoning issues. Participants at the meeting included city staff, along with Cavalier Hotel representatives R.J. Nutter, Almond and Rock Bell, according to the records.
This section begins with Almond’s resignation letter in September, 2013, in which he wonders if he “should continue” on the Task Force and discloses his connection to the Cavalier development team. It is followed by e-mails, land records, city easement agreements and other documents showing Almond’s involvement with the project before and after his resignation. There is no indication that any laws were broken, and the Task Force was advisory only. That is irrelevant. We expect open and complete disclosure from all elected officials, city employees and volunteer board members representing taxpayers and our city.
This section includes the final development agreement reached between the city and the developers. Also included are the city's financial calculations in the months and weeks before and after the deal was reached, including numbers given by Virginia Beach staff to the developer before an auction to buy the Cavalier even took place.
As more development deals go forward, it's crucial that the city abide by the terms of all of its agreements, and act at all times in the interest of taxpayers. Judge for yourself whether the development agreement is being followed, and note the various disagreements expressed by some staff members.
Here are the appointment calendars of former City Manager Jim Spore, Mayor Will Sessoms and former Deputy City Manager Steve Herbert that were turned over to a state special prosecutor under a Freedom of Information Act request. The dates cover from 2009 to 2014. Note that the first three years are completely blank because the city deleted all e-mails after three years as a matter of policy. If you believe that policy is improper, contact your City Councilor today and ask for a change.
As you read these, take careful notice of meetings on October, 11, 2013 and May 23, 2014. They deal with zoning, signage and the Cavalier future vision, and scheduled participants include Mayor Sessoms and John Uhrin. The meetings took at the headquarters of Bruce Thompson's Gold Key, and took place after the Mayor announced he had a conflict of interest and could not participate in votes or discussions on the Cavalier project. At least one of the meetings took place after Uhrin's wife had joined the project in the marketing of luxury homes.
Alll three of these calendars are searchable.
The following section contain tens of thousands of e-mails and other city documents turned over to the FBI, a grand jury and a state special prosecutor. The documents were supplied to The Document Project through a Freedom of Information Act Request. These documents are fully searchable when downloaded.
These records relate to a supplemental Virginia Beach response to a federal subpoena, and are also searchable when downloaded.