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2012 Top Business Stories


Although the economy continued to sputter along in 2012, the year in business news raced on.

From the discovery that Virginia Beach is seriously considering building a professional sports arena to the announcement that the Port of Virginia might soon be controlled by a private entity to the opening of Whole Foods and the proposed merger of one of the area’s Fortune 500 companies, 2012 showed that despite a sluggish economy, people in Hampton Roads continue to make things happen.

As we close out 2012 and enter a new year, here’s a look at some of the top stories of the past year.


  • TOP STORY 2012 A Whole Food Market opens in Hampton Roads

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:01 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    The area's first Whole Foods Market opened in Virginia Beach in October.

    Georgia-based developer S. J. Collins Enterprises spent $15 million building the 40,000-square-foot store for the supermarket, which specializes in natural and organic food.

    While S. J. Collins funded the project with a construction loan, Whole Foods paid for its own interior construction.

    Whole Foods Market, located at 1800 Laskin Road, has 97 full-time and 89 part-time employees, according to Samantha Jimenez, a company spokeswoman.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Another plan for West 21st street gets a green light

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:02 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    After several failed attempts, Norfolk finalized a land deal that will redevelop the area of West 21st Street between Colley Avenue and Hampton Boulevard and will bring Fresh Market to Ghent.

    Norfolk City Council approved the purchase of the 3.57-acre parcel to 21st Street Partners LLC for $500,000.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Brian Dinning indicted for South Africa investments

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:31 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    In 2012, attorney Brian Ray Dinning, formerly of Suffolk, was in the news often, but not the type he hoped for when he began what he called his social entrepreneurship work in South Africa years ago.

    On June 6, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on 25 counts of wire fraud in what the indictment called a Ponzi scheme involving $2.9 million in investor money Dinning solicited purportedly to support his African business ventures. He allegedly spent $2 million of that money for personal gain.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Bridges resigns as port executive director

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:04 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    In 2011, Jerry Bridges signed a contract with the Virginia Port Authority to serve another six years as executive director of the Port of Virginia. But in August, he stepped down.

    The announcement came as Gov. Bob McDonnell, Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and the port authority are considering proposals for a private firm to take over the Port of Virginia's operations.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Dollar Tree creates plans for Greenbrier City Center

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:04 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    The Chesapeake Planning Department has asked Dollar Tree to revise its plans to build a city center on the company's 69.59-acre property along Volvo Parkway.

    The 148-page rezoning application, which Dollar Tree submitted to the city in September, outlines a multi-phased mixed-use development of residential, office, retail, hotel and civic space that could grow to a 5.15 million square feet.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Economic gardening, startup programs take root

    Updated: January 4, 2013 - 4:43 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Economic gardening initiatives and accelerator programs for startup companies sprouted in the area in 2012.

    Last April, StartNorfolk held its second startup weekend designed to connect entrepreneurs with people who have investment capital, management, design and programming experience to jump-start the best business ideas.

    The winners were, which gives ideas for dates; Podium Pro, a public speaking application for the iPad; and Care Direct, an Internet platform for emergency medical help.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Eminent domain amendment passes; local businesses continue land seizure battles

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:07 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    In the November election, Virginia voters widely agreed to give property owners more rights against eminent domain.

    Eminent domain is the power of the local, state or federal government to take private property for public use.

    The amendment to the state constitution bars property from being taken for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise or to create jobs, increase the tax revenue or for economic development. It also allows businesses to claim lost profits.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Indictments follow Bank of the Commonwealth failure

    Updated: January 4, 2013 - 4:37 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    One of the biggest banking scandals ever to hit Hampton Roads began in 2011, when the feds moved in on Commonwealth Bankshares, shutting it down in the wake of hundreds of millions in losses.

    But it wasn't until this year that the severity of the bank's downfall became public.

    Its revered president, Edward Woodard Jr., his son T. Brandon Woodard, and two former bank officers, Stephen Hounslow and Norfolk developer Dwight Etheridge are slated to stand trial next March.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Light rail surpasses estimates, Beach votes in favor of expansion

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:09 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    2012 marked the first full year of light rail service in the city of Norfolk with ridership beating expectations. And in November, voters in Virginia Beach indicated they'd like to see the service expanded there as well.

    As of Dec. 20, there were 1,745,881 boardings for light rail for the year. The project was mired in controversy from the beginning - the former director of Hampton Roads Transit, Michael Townes, stepped down after the project went millions of dollars over budget. Ultimately, Phil Shucet took over and the project cost $318 million.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Monarch's Schwartz named to Richmond Fed

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:43 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    The CEO of Monarch Financial said he went to Richmond to have lunch with Richard Lacker, the president of the Federal Reserve, and Sally Green, its chief operating officer. He thought that the lunch was simply to talk shop.

    But soon after the lunch, Schwartz received a call, offering him a spot on the powerful, 12-member Federal Reserve Board of Richmond. One of three bankers on the board, Schwartz will have a hand in setting monetary and banking policy.

    The Virginia Bankers Association nominated Schwartz to the position.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Norfolk signs with Cordish Cos. for Waterside project

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:11 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    For years, Waterside Festival Marketplace has sat nearly empty, with the exception of an Outback Steakhouse, a Joe's Crabshack and a couple of bars that the city eventually shut down.

    But in 2012, the city of Norfolk finally moved forward. After considering other offers, including turning Waterside into a convention and hotel center or a beach music venue, the city of Norfolk has signed a letter of intent with the Cordish Cos., a Baltimore firm that plans to turn Waterside into Waterside Live!.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Passenger rail service returns to Norfolk

    Updated: January 4, 2013 - 4:37 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Norfolk's train finally came in.

    It's been 35 years since Amtrak served Norfolk, and city leaders and others didn't like that. So three years ago, Thelma Drake, Virginia's director of rail and public transportation, promised that she would bring rail back to Norfolk.

    On Dec. 11, city and commonwealth leaders boarded a train in Petersburg for a ceremonial "whistle-stop tour" and rode into Norfolk, picking Gov. Bob McDonnell up along the way.

    The next morning, 279 people boarded the train for its inaugural run.

  • TOP STORY 2012 PeoplExpress announces plans to start in Newport News

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:12 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Ever since AirTran stopped service at Newport News International Airport in March, passenger traffic at the airport has declined significantly.

    The airport hopes that will change with the announcement that PeoplExpress, a low-fare airline, would begin service there.

    The airline is a revival of an airline that got its start in 1981. By 1985, it was generating $1 billion in annual revenue. It was bought by Continental in 1987.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Pete Decker Jr. - 'Mr. Norfolk' - dies

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:25 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Peter Decker Jr., the man who can best be described as "Mr. Norfolk," died at the age of 76 last February, after battling cancer.

    Many referred to the local attorney and philanthropist as "Uncle Pete" because he had helped so many in the community.

    Decker was known for his smile, extroverted personality, law practice, his stint as a judge and his dedication to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He even performed and recorded songs and created and sold "Uncle Pete's" coffee to support the Memphis hospital.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Proposals made to privatize the port

    Updated: January 4, 2013 - 4:36 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Last spring, APM Terminals submitted an unsolicited proposal to run the Port of Virginia in a deal it says would be worth up to $4 billion for the commonwealth.

    The proposal set into motion a process that has involved other companies submitting proposals to operate the port along with a proposal from state-owned Virginia International Terminals, which has run the port since 1982.

    It means that after more than 31 years, the operation of the port could fall into private hands.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Sentara looks to add Halifax Regional Medical Center next year

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:26 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Sentara Healthcare's network is expected to grow further in 2013.

    Sentara has added two Virginia hospital systems since 2009 and - barring any roadblocks - seems poised to add its 11th system this spring: the Halifax Regional Health System of South Boston.

    "We considered for-profit as well as not-for-profit systems," said Chris Lumsden, Halifax's CEO of 25 years.

    "But in the end we felt like Sentara enjoyed all of the elements that we were looking for in a high-quality health care system."

  • TOP STORY 2012 Tolls on Midtown and Downtown tunnels spark lawsuit

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:27 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    There's no question that improvements to the downtown and midtown tunnels in Norfolk are needed, but controversy surrounding them raged in 2012.

    As it stands now, motorists who use the tunnels will pay tolls of up to $1.84 when the projects are completed in 2014 by Elizabeth River Crossings, a private company that is heading up the $2.1 billion project.

    Once completed, the project will include improvements to the downtown tunnel, a new tube for the midtown tunnel and an extension of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway in Portsmouth.

  • TOP STORY 2012 U.Va. president reinstated after attempt to have her removed

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:29 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    The University of Virginia's Board of Visitors tried secretly to oust President Teresa Sullivan, but the effort failed after an ensuing upheaval by faculty and students that thrust the school into the national spotlight.

    Sullivan was reinstated after the botched attempt, which appeared to stem from financial concerns, among other things. But the relationship between her and the U of Va. Board of Visitors remains to be seen.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Ups and downs: Closing and layoffs reported, while other companies plan expansions, new jobs

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:42 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    Companies in the Tidewater region announced a variety of expansions, closures, hirings, layoffs and other news in 2012.

    Mosaic Tile Co. in Virginia Beach is moving its design center off Avenger Drive to a bigger center on Barrett Street near North Lynnhaven Parkway in July 2013. Officials announced in the fall that the company would spend $1.5 million for 23,900 square feet of space and another $1.85 million for renovations. The Fairfax-based company is the largest independent distributor of ceramic tile and stone in the mid-Atlantic region.

  • TOP STORY 2012 Urban Outfitters opens downtown

    Updated: December 28, 2012 - 3:34 pm

    Posted: December 28, 2012

    City leaders are betting that Urban Outfitters, the uber-hip clothing retailer, will lead to a downtown renaissance.

    The three-level store at 271 Granby St. includes a 7,000-square-foot sales floor, a 500-square-foot fitting room and a 2,400-square-foot stock room. The store opened in July.