Waterfront Makeover  

Norfolk’s Waterside complex gets a major revitalization, and is poised to open in spring, just in time for visitors heading north on the ICW.

Red buoy “36” between Norfolk and Portsmouth has long been a gateway to adventure for cruisers, marking the beginning of the 1,090-mile Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Now the Ditch’s Mile Marker Zero will mark a new destination as well. The new Waterside District, a 30,000 square-foot waterfront marketplace and festival site, is scheduled to open there this April on the northern shore of the Elizabeth River. 

The project is the result of an agreement reached in 2013 between the City of Norfolk and the Cordish Companies, well known in the Bay area for their development of the Power Plant Live! entertainment venue along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the casino and hotel Maryland Live! in Hanover, Md. Winners of seven Urban Land Institute Awards of Excellence, Cordish has overseen the revitalization of several inner city waterfronts, including Charleston Place in South Carolina and the Power & Light District in Kansas City, Mo. While many of the company’s projects have focused on their Live! Entertainment concept, Vice-president Blake Cordish says the Norfolk plan has “a larger vision.”

“We see a broader, mixed use waterfront district, and the name, the Waterside District, speaks to that potential,” Cordish notes.

The original Waterside was built in 1983, but it had fallen into disrepair, with much of the complex empty and only a few restaurants remaining. This spring, following a $40 million overhaul, the new and improved Waterside District will become home to a range of eateries, including the Rappahannock Oyster Company (known for Merroir, its unique oyster “tasting room” in Topping, Va.), Starr Hill Brew Pub, Blue Moon Taphouse, Cogan’s Pizza, and the Guy Fieri Smokehouse. The plan also includes outdoor spaces to gather and giant screens to watch sporting events and concerts. In addition to providing a place where the community can congregate, city officials believe Waterside will be a boon to the local economy, employing over 1,000 people and generating more than $100 million in revenue over the next 30 years.

It will also provide a great stop for Bay cruisers. 

“Waterside District will be an ideal destination for boaters because of the convenient location to the Waterside Marina and all that Norfolk has to offer,” said Glenn Sutch, president of Waterside District, pointing to “the unique blend of the best local, regional and national dining establishments complemented by a variety of entertainment and events.”

Waterside Marina dockmaster John Desocio agrees. While the marina has always hosted cruisers
on the ICW and larger vessels entering from the Atlantic, he believes the new Waterside District will draw weekenders and day-trippers to Norfolk.

Waterside Marina sits directly in front of the renovation site and offers floating docks, 20-foot water depth, and temporary day dockage and transient slips. “We are expecting a lot more local boating traffic,” Desocio says, noting that the City of Norfolk upgraded the docks and power last year in anticipation of the increased transient business.

Boaters can also stay across the river in one of Portsmouth’s marinas and pay the $3.50 round-trip fare to take the ferry to the Waterside District. Visitors will want to make time to
visit the Nauticus Museum and complex, which includes the Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, all within walking distance of Waterside District’s attractions.

Announcements regarding the grand opening and upcoming events are available on Waterside District’s website,, and its social media channels. Waterside Marina slip reservations are available online at or by calling the marina (757-625-3625).

—Ann Eichenmuller