Bait Shop Virginia Beach
James Woods loomed over the ocean, his fishing rods balanced along the rail of the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier. White-capped waves rolled toward the pylons below. The wooden pier near 15th Street swayed a bit in the wind.
“This is my little corner, ” Woods said. The 88-year-old has been a fixture here for 27 years. He brings a wagon, his tackle box and cooler.
“What’cha catchin’?” a man asked him.
“Whatever’s biting, ” he said. He had been there about three hours on Wednesday morning. His cooler was empty, but he didn’t seem to mind. The water’s still cold this time of year.
The resort area’s only pier closes every year at the end of September. It reopened March 25, and Woods knows this could be its last season as it exists now.
It’s been several months since a group of families submitted a proposal to the city to redevelop the pier and surrounding property.
The partnership includes the Lachman, Murden and Bonney families, who own the pier at 15th Street, along with the Capps family, owners of The Breakers hotel on 16th Street, the Sibony family, owners of land between 14th and 15th Street on Atlantic Avenue, and developer Bruce Thompson.
The project would cover nearly 500 feet of privately owned beachfront land and would cost $245 million. The proposal includes a new 880-foot concrete pier – possibly with a Ferris wheel and surfing hall of fame – a hotel, a time-share resort, a parking garage and a public plaza.
The investors have said they need public money to move forward with the project. The city could create a new road alignment at 15th Street where the pier would be located and purchase land to create an Oceanfront park there. The city could also buy public spaces in the parking garage and play a role in developing the $52 million pier.
The city manager is reviewing the developer’s proposal and financial information, city spokeswoman Julie Hill said this week. The next step will be a public review of the city’s analysis in the coming weeks.
Councilman Bobby Dyer, whom the mayor has asked to serve as one of the council liaisons for the project, said he plans to organize public information meetings on the proposal.
For now, the families are carrying on with their businesses.
Jimmy Capps is recaulking the parking deck at The Breakers. If the project moves forward, the hotel will be torn down.
“We’ve got to keep the property up and viable, but you don’t want to go overboard with what you’re spending, ” he said.
Over at the pier, decking and bolts need to be replaced. Roof repairs are under way. Air-conditioning units are limping along.
The Lachman family has been operating businesses on the pier since it opened in June 1950. Before the beach was widened and elevated in 2000, rough surf shook the whole length of it.
“When a big wave hit the end of the pier – vroom – you’d feel it up here, ” Bobby Lachman said from his perch in the bait shop.
In the 1930s and ’40s, before Lachman’s grandparents built the pier, they ran the Gables, a North End club near The Cavalier Hotel where guests drank liquor and gambled. It was shut down, and the Lachmans had to find something else to do, their grandson said.
They enjoyed fishing on piers in Nags Head and had an idea to build one in Virginia Beach. With a group of investors, they bought land at 15th Street. In 1949, the City Council approved a franchise for them to build and operate the pier, with the city retaining a public easement over the beach.
The 1962 Ash Wednesday storm nearly destroyed it. Hurricanes have knocked down the old timber, but the families repaired it. The pier has been open for fishing every summer for 66 years.
Memories of the old days roll off Lachman’s tongue, but he pauses when he talks about the future. For the pier, the families could partner with the city, or the city may choose to own it. As for the land, which mostly serves as a parking lot for the pier now, some of it could be subdivided and sold. The Capps family would retain ownership of the new hotel with its partners.
Lachman’s skin is thick; he’s been in negotiations to redevelop before. Those plans never panned out.
This time, though, he said, it feels more real. They have an integral partner in the project.
“Thompson completes projects, gets it done on schedule, ” he said. “We needed a developer who could make things happen.”
Thompson has been a resident of Virginia Beach for more than 50 years. His company, Gold Key | PHR, has built hotels, time shares, restaurants, office buildings and apartments in the resort area.
Thompson’s vision for the concrete pier includes fishing, retail shops, restaurants and meeting space. The 180-foot Ferris wheel and hall of fame are also being considered.
Ocean Eddie’s Seafood Restaurant has anchored the pier since it was a hamburger and hot dog joint in the early days, and later, a bar. On Wednesday, a dry erase board still bore a list of specials from closing day last year. Flounder stuffed with crabmeat is a top seller.
Betty Lachman-Tucker, her husband, Warren “Biggie” Tucker, and their daughter, Debbie Lou Hague, met at the restaurant Wednesday to plan for a May 1 opening.
“The worse thing is the salt air, ” said Biggie Tucker, 94, wearing two fleeces and an Ocean Eddie’s baseball cap. “I’m tired of it.”
But they all agree they’ll miss the old place. Maybe the new pier will have an Ocean Eddie’s reinvented, they say.
“I think this end of the beach needs it, ” said Betty Lachman-Tucker, 76. “I think it would bring more people.”
The families are eager to start the project. Preliminary design and engineering plans for the pier have been completed. Once they are approved by regulatory agencies, construction could begin as early as September.