COURTHOUSE — City Manager Jim Spore, who will retire on Jan. 1, attributes many of his accomplishments to the others that helped make them happen.
“I’m a believer that if you create a vision and a plan to achieve it, you’ve got to be willing to do things to make it happen,” Spore said during an interview. “You can’t wish it to happen.”
This sentiment underlines Spore’s long service to the city. He said his notion of creating development in Virginia Beach relied heavily on teamwork and collaboration.
“When I got here, an observation I had was it was kind of a county organization that had grown, but we had sort of distinct silos of different departments,” Spore said. “They’re all good in their own right, but they weren’t spending a lot of time working together.”
Spore, 70, has spent almost 25 years serving as the city manager of Virginia Beach, leaving behind a legacy as a guiding hand for major projects, such as the Convention Center, development of Town Center, and the possible extension of the Tide from Newtown Station to Town Center, among others.
Spore initially took a different approach with his staff in order to begin planning comprehensively for the city.
“When I got here we really got into some strategic planning in a serious way,” Spore said. “We put together a series of strategic issue teams and they identified the Oceanfront and seven other areas, these eight strategic growth areas, as really being important to the long term future of the city.”
With a knowledgeable city council, Spore was able to open up ideas of how to create a lasting, appealing future for Virginia Beach. Support from the city council and community members is key to the success of such planning.
“We’ve provided a lot of information in terms of here’s the trends, here are the threats and here are the opportunities,” Spore said. “We brainstorm with [city council members] and they’ve set those targets and goals. It’s worked really well.”
Spore said that most of the ideas were envisioned by city council, which sets the policy that the manager executes.
“Out of that, over the years, I think they’ve had a real consistent consensus around what the vision is and how need to operate to get there.” Spore said. “They’ve been willing to fund things like the redo of the Boardwalk and the beach and, hopefully, the arena.”City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne Voting District, said Spore is well-respected, adding that working with him on issues has been a pleasure.
“The things I have been most involved with like the Agricultural Reserve Program and Open Space Program are very important programs … We’ve saved the agricultural land with purchasing development rights here, and we have purchased enough for parcels around the city to retain an open space.” The efforts have been part of the city’s long-range planning.
Also of note in southern Virginia Beach is the Princess Anne Commons area, including educational, health and athletic development, and the biomedical focus for development there.
Spore began as city manager in 1991. There were reasons for Oceanfront and Atlantic Avenue to be key areas for development and restoration.
“We were running out of developable land,” Spore said. “It’s hard to imagine that in the city the geographic size of Virginia Beach, but with the Green Line and with the military facilities and things like that — the wetlands — there was very little developable land.”
The Green Line was established in 1979 as an urban-growth boundary line, protecting land in the southern region. The idea is to keep sprawl out of the rural reaches, where agriculture remains a vital industry for the city.
“The whole notion of the beautification of Atlantic Avenue, the redo of the Boardwalk…widening the beach, those are just some fundamental things we had wanted to do for a long period of time,” Spore said. “That was going to add as a kind of beautification and upgrade effort in terms of safety, storm water and appearance and traffic.”
In addition to improvements of the Oceanfront, Spore recently helped ensure the restoration of the Cavalier Hotel and he had advocated for extending Light Rail, a project he sees as vital to the city’s growth.
“A lot of the debate right now about Light Rail, I think, is really misguided,” Spore said. “It’s looking at an initial three mile extension and only looking at the cost of the transportation improvement and it’s not factoring in what the system needs to become in the future and how that’s going to relate to how we’re going to develop in the next fifty years.”
Spore hopes to leave behind a legacy of successful and profitable developments for the city and hopefully to see Light Rail a reality in the future.
Although Spore has enjoyed support on the council, it is not universal. City Councilmember John Moss, at large, has been a critic. After Spore’s retirement was announced this summer, Moss, who has criticized city development deals that he says limit free enterprise or involve subsidies, did not join in an ovation for the manager, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
“Every individual council member has their own view of the world and what the city ought to be,” Spore said. “Some have a different view of the basic role of government. It’s been my experience, particularly, if you think it through in terms of what’s happened to Federalism in this country, the breakdown of the relationship between the federal government and state and local governments. It used to be a partnership, but now it’s really not now for a lot of reasons.”Spore said he is a firm believer in unification and cooperation in order to achieve goals set for the city, which is apparent as he explained his favorite aspect of the position.
“One was to create an organization that is highly professional and closely aligned,” Spore said. “They’re working together, they’re collaborating and we’re just doing some very creative things … It’s amazing the stuff the staff do. They’re really great.”
Sessoms reflected on the manager’s success during Spore’s final council meeting on Dec. 8.
“All the accolades, accumulated during his service, can be attributed to his commitment to devoting his talents and energy to assist this community and improving the quality of life for all of our citizens and his dedication to public service,” Sessoms said.
That day, the council voted to approve the plan for local developer, United States Management, to build a sports and entertainment arena located across from the Virginia Beach Conference Center, marking another accomplishment for Spore.
The city presently is determining who will replace Spore. Interviews for the position took place in December after a nationwide search. Deputy City Manager Doug Smith will serve as acting manager if a new manager is not in place. And Spore will soon begin a new position as president and chief executive officer of Reinvent Hampton Roads, a regional leadership initiative born from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. It aims to strengthen employment and find new industries, among other things.
As for what advice he can give his successor, Spore said:
“You’ve got to be willing and able to creatively intervene and partner with nonprofit sectors and the private sector to do creative partnerships to create things that would not happen on their own.”
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