- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) A two-year campaign to calm rowdy behavior at the oceanfront appears to be working and has won the confidence of residents and merchants.
Bad behavior, once considered a threat to tourism and to the resort's family-friendly image, is no longer viewed as a problem, according to opinion surveys presented to the city's Resort Advisory Commission.
After the city initiated its code-of-conduct program in summer 2000, the resort's atmosphere improved noticeably, according to the end-of-season surveys of residents and merchants.
The program targets such uncivil behavior as profanity and lewd conduct and features an eye-catching logo a red circle with a slash through a universal abbreviation for swearing.
Longtime merchants said the findings reflect what they have seen: After years of staying away, locals are returning to the oceanfront and more families are lingering longer on Atlantic Avenue.
"I've walked down there every weekend for the last two seasons, and the atmosphere is just so much nicer. It's fun," said Preston Midgett, a retailer and member of the advisory commission.
"It is a positive message, and we're very much behind it," said Brandon Ramsey, manager of Peabody's Nightclub.
"Last year was the best year I've seen in a long time," added Michael Standing, a commission member and oceanfront restaurateur.
After the 2001 season, a random telephone survey of 500 residents showed that more than 80 percent knew about the program. Nearly 53 percent said behavior at the resort was better than it had been in previous years.
In a similar survey after the 2000 season, 44 percent said resort behavior had improved.
Also, 31 percent of the residents ranked the behavior as "not a problem," compared with 18 percent in 2000.
The program, which features community volunteers walking the resort at night, also has won over skeptical merchants.
In a separate mail-in survey, 76 percent of the 87 restaurant, hotel and retail owners who responded voiced confidence in the program, up from 54 percent in 2000.
Also, only 54 percent of the merchants said behavior problems were "very" or "somewhat" serious, down from 71 percent in 2000.
Ninety-two percent of them cited improved behavior in 2001, up from 78 percent a year earlier.
While acknowledging improvements, some merchants said the city now needs to focus more on late-night safety and on curbing rowdiness on back streets. Others said the city needs to publicize its campaign more widely.
"It's always going to be something that'll need to be monitored," Mr. Midgett said. "You'll never get it to 100 percent."


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