© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Virginia Beach considers dorm-style residences for student workers

The second floor of the Sunsations location on 25th Street was formerly an indoor miniature golf course. (Photo by Ryan Murphy)
The second floor of the Sunsations location on 25th Street was formerly an indoor miniature golf course. (Photo by Ryan Murphy)

Update - March 19, 7:45 p.m.: Virginia Beach's City Council unanimously approved the request from the owner of Sunsations to convert the second floor of the Atlantic Avenue store into housing for international workers.

Original - March 18, 8 a.m.: The owners of Atlantic Avenue gift shop Sunsations want to turn the building’s second floor into accommodations for international students working under J-1 Visas.

About 1,000 such visa holders work at the Oceanfront each summer, most often in restaurants and hotels.

The owners have to get approval from the City Council to make the conversation. Their ask comes as a recent housing report from Virginia Beach shows many retail and restaurant workers who staff the Oceanfront don’t make enough money to live in the city.

Dee Nachnani said during the pandemic, he employed some visa holders at his Coastal Edge surf shop.

“The work shortage at the Oceanfront is a real situation. And for the approximate thousand J-1 students, housing is a concern, to house (them) in a safe and welcoming manner,” he said.

Nachnani leads the Atlantic Avenue Association and said the Sunsations proposal would create a centrally located residence for dozens of these workers, who often live scattered around.

“You don't have to Uber or you don't have the challenges of travel,” he said.

Currently, the only centralized place that houses J-1 visa holders is the 19th Street Hotel.

The proposal City Council will consider at its meeting Tuesday includes putting 86 beds in 11 rooms, like a hostel, on the second floor of the Sunsations building at 25th Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Kyle Korte, an attorney who represented Sunsations Realty LLC at a recent planning commission hearing, told the commission there would be curtains separating the beds.

He said there would be an on-site manager around the clock, as well as key-fob access for workers to get inside. The plans show a common area for cooking and separate men’s and women’s bathrooms.

Nachnani said this is a way for Sunsations to make use of the second floor space, which used to be an indoor miniature golf course.

He said the second floors of businesses along the Oceanfront strip are underused and it used to be fairly common for a shopkeeper to live above their store.

“We certainly hope that we take the opportunity to utilize the spaces that aren't being utilized right now, because the thought wasn't even there,” Nachnani said.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.