VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. -- Leaders of financial institutions, worried about possible downward trends in the tourism industry, are pressing for a plan to expand the resort business in Virginia's summer capital.
Tourism brings millions of dollars annually to the economies of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads and the rest of the state. Bankers are worried by signs of changing individual tastes, criticism of the resort strip and what they see as a failure by civic leaders to take action for the future.
Tourism in Virginia Beach faces "dwindling business prospects" unless there is more investment in the industry's future, said J. Burton Harrison Jr., chairman and president of the Bank of Tidewater.
"Three or four months ago, we started discussing the possibility of using financial institution directors to take a look at the controversy -- the reasoning behind the city not implementing the studies that suggested we upgrade the strip," Harrison said.
Since 1969, six studies have been made on the resort strip. Several others have taken up more limited aspects of the industry.
But none of the studies has recommended more than a facelift for Atlantic Avenue, which fronts the Atlantic Ocean. That project is estimated to cost about $55 million.
In the meantime, some business leaders are worried that by failing to keep up with changing trends, Virginia Beach may be falling behind.
Boyd Colgate, director and chief executive of the popular Cavalier Hotels, which are Virginia Beach landmarks, said financial institutions have drawn together because of possible unease over the future of their own investments at the strip.
"There's no question about it," Colgate said. "They have more invested than anyone else. I'm sure there's not a bank board meeting held here where people don't discuss this every month."
Officials of the Resort Area Advisory Commission, a city-appointed resort planning group, will meet with the bankers this week to discuss efforts to improve the strip. Harrison said officials hope a smaller group will then be appointed to develop a comprehensive plan for improvements and building a long-term financial base for the industry.
Officials expect a key recommendation may be to commit a portion of the $10 million in tax revenue generated by tourists to resort projects.
So far, the idea to bring together the city, business and banking interests together has been well-received.
"It's encouraging," said Michael Savvides, a hotel owner. "The industry is going downhill. Someone had to come in.'