Newport News leaders say Navy could invest $400M in downtown housing for sailors

Newport News leaders say Navy could invest $400M in downtown housing for sailors

March 3, 2024

The Navy could soon invest up to $400 million to provide housing for sailors in Newport News, according to state and local officials who said the investment may hinge upon whether the state approves spending $40 million to kickstart the project.

The Navy has identified up to $400 million that could be used to build a new facility to house sailors, Newport News spokesperson Kim Bracy told the Daily Press. Bracy said to secure this funding, the state would need to provide up to 10% toward the cost share project. She said this investment is “critical to downtown revitalization efforts.”

Del. Marcia S. “Cia” Price, D-Newport News, introduced an amendment to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s two-year-budget proposal that would provide $40 million in state funding “to build infrastructure to house and care for sailors who reside in Newport News when a ship is being built, overhauled, or otherwise in a maintenance shipbuilding facility.”

Price said the investment in housing would allow sailors to not just work in Newport News, but be able to live off of the ships.

“To be stationed somewhere and not really feel like you’re a part of the community, all of that can really wear on people,” Price said. “And in response to that, both the Navy, the city of Newport News, the shipyard and the state are looking to get creative with some of the things that we can do to improve their quality of life.”

The Navy did not return calls inquiring for more information on what the housing could entail. Last year, the Navy began undertaking a massive effort to improve sailors’ quality of life, including providing more options for off-base housing. This effort followed a wave of suicides of Hampton Roads-based sailors and a comprehensive investigation that concluded the Navy failed its own personnel on an individual and systemic level.

The Newport News government hopes that if Price’s amendment is included in the final state budget, the investment could play a part in both improving sailors’ quality of life and revitalizing downtown.

“This budget amendment stands as the top legislative priority for the City of Newport News,” said Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones in a statement. “As a Marine, I deeply recognize the critical need to enhance the quality of life for our Sailors. Moreover, this initiative represents a pivotal investment in Newport News, bolstering our ongoing downtown revitalization endeavors. We are profoundly grateful for the unwavering support from our state and federal delegation.”

Price, who lives in downtown Newport News, said  in addition to more sailor housing, the $400 million investment could include beautification and other types of infrastructure improvements downtown.

“I think depending upon the scope of what it is that we can get done, it can be truly transformative for some of the areas that have been largely neglected over the years,” she said.

Price’s amendment, which allotted $20 million in fiscal 2025 and 2026, was adopted as part of the House proposal. Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, also introduced a budget amendment that would appropriate up to $40 million in fiscal year 2025, but it was not folded into the Senate plan.

Both the House and Senate signed off on amendments to the two-year budget proposal last month. It’s now it’s the job of negotiators to work out a compromise budget based on the two spending plans. That process largely takes place behind closed doors with appointed conferees. Locke is one of the Senate’s conferees. To come to fruition, the amendment would need to make it into the final budget, which would then need the governor’s signature.

Price also introduced a bill, which passed both the House and the Senate, that would allow localities to offer unique benefits to businesses looking to locate within a military-centered community zone to serve the needs of military personnel. Price said many military employees don’t live in areas where there are many amenities, and this legislation could help provide incentives to bring businesses and their amenities to military-centered communities, like Newport News.

The potential Navy investment is among many ways Newport News hopes to improve the downtown area.

“We’ve been in talks with the Navy, we’ve been in talks with Newport News Shipbuilding, but long story short, we need to build more aircraft carriers,” Jones said in a recent interview with The Daily Press. “That’s going to require 3,000 to 5,000 more sailors. And the question becomes where do you home port them?”

Jones said the city has a “once in a lifetime opportunity” with downtown Newport News.

“I think once you’re able to make downtown all that it can be, I think that unlocks the greatness that is Newport News,” he said.

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