PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what will take the place of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame after they closed their doors on High Street for good on June 30.
The 36,000 square-foot facility, built in 2005, now sits vacant and is currently on the market for $3.9 million.
Ed Webb, museum president, says the Hall spent $12 million in 2005 — about $7.5 million for the building and the rest on exhibits.
The Hall is one of the largest buildings in a downtown that has struggled in recent years to attract visitors and new business.
“It’s sad for Portsmouth, because I think it’s a great amenity,” said Angela Clark, who has owned The Coffee Shoppe next door for eight years and believes the closure will result in some lost business.
Her shop has suffered already from tolls at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels. She estimates a 30 percent drop in sales last year alone.
Museum officials say low attendance and declining investment from the city forced them to shut their doors.
Since 2005, the city has contributed $8.4 million to the Hall. They also donated the land, which is worth approximately $500,000, according to city records. The museum also had a tax-exempt status for the land.
Records show the state has contributed $1.75 million since 2013.
Still, the board says their business was unsustainable at the current funding level. They now have plans to spread their exhibits across Town Center in Virginia Beach and create a free pedestrian tour.
“We are transitioning to a place where we believe we can be sustainable and the main feature of that is to decrease our operating expenses dramatically,” said Joel Rubin, chairman of the board.
Mayor John Rowe believes the museum made a bad move.
“This is where the Sports Hall of Fame was born, and I think their demise is self-inflicted,” said Rowe. “They have missed a lot of opportunities because of their laid-back leadership.”
Rowe says the Hall missed opportunities to raise funds during their 50th anniversary by going after sponsorships and criticized the museum for only being open three days a week leading up to the closure.
The Hall still owes $3 million on the building, according to Webb. Officials say there’s been no interest from anyone about purchasing the building so far.
Clark, who says she would like to see some kind of retail move into the space, fears the building could sit vacant for a while.
“If I didn’t own a business over here, there would be little to draw me here,” said Clark. “I’m hoping that it’s revitalizing, but I see what Norfolk is doing. I see what the City of Norfolk is doing, and I see the money and investment they are making in their downtown and in their waterfront and I wish I saw the same thing in Portsmouth.”
Rowe says the city is not an interested buyer of the building, but he says that could change.
“I would not close the door to that,” he said. “If you want to create a vibrant downtown, a vibrant central business district, then the local government has got to be willing to invest in it.”
Webb says the Hall is still negotiating with the City of Virginia Beach and no final agreement has been signed.