Virginia Center Commons has emerged as Henrico County’s top choice for the location of a new public arena.

At the recommendation of county staff members, the Henrico Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to enter negotiations for partnering with Rebkee Co. on the facility, which would feature space for at least 4,500 seats and 12 basketball courts.

County Recreation and Parks Director Neil Luther said officials chose to recommend the proposed location because of its proximity to Interstate 95 and existing utility infrastructure. The project also presents an opportunity to revitalize the struggling mall, Luther and officials with Rebkee said.

“We couldn’t ask for a better location in a micro and macro sense of what we’re trying to accomplish with this project,” he said.

Tuesday’s announcement followed months of silence after talks between Henrico and Richmond Raceway about erecting an indoor arena there stalled out.

The county renewed the idea for a venue — first considered decades earlier — with a pitch last year to the Board of Supervisors, saying that the facility would boost the region’s growing sports tourism market and increase spending at hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Officials say it would also meet a growing need for indoor sports facilities for school teams and recreational leagues.

Last winter, county officials estimated that the new arena could generate about $17 million in annual visitor spending, and that having a private operator manage it would save the county about $2.5 million in annual operating costs.

Officials said during a work session Tuesday that the county is budgeting $50 million for the project. It would be financed through bonds issued by the county’s Economic Development Authority.

“This is a tremendous economic opportunity,” Luther said. “We know we lose $33 million annually by not having an indoor sports complex.”

Rebkee was among six developers who bid on Henrico’s initial request for proposals, issued in July 2018. Half of them — MEB General Contractors and Eastern Sports Management were the others — submitted new bids when the county asked for new proposals this summer.

Rebkee, which is redeveloping the Regency shopping mall to incorporate residential development and a NOVA aquatic center, is partnering with Shamin Hotels on its plans for Virginia Center Commons.

Shamin CEO Neil Amin said his company is exploring the idea of building a hotel at the site. 

In an interview after Tuesday’s work session, Rebkee co-founder Rob Hargett said the development company will look to rezone the property to be an urban mixed-use district that includes residential housing.

“There’s nothing yet,” he said about the ancillary redevelopment of the site. “We’re solely focused right now on acquiring the property, getting the facility open and starting the planning process.”

The county is looking to acquire about 25 acres at Virginia Center Commons from owner Mike Kohan, a New York-based property manager. The J.C. Penney and American Family Fitness buildings would remain since they are separately owned.

The arena, which would be about 200,000 square feet and roughly the size of Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center, would go where Sears used to be located at the mall, but officials said the land deal has not been finalized.

Officials said Tuesday that they expect that the Board of Supervisors will vote to authorize the land purchase its next meeting on Nov. 26.

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