Archived Story

Time for a vision statement

Published 10:13pm Friday, May 10, 2013

Now that Suffolk’s Economic Development Authority has approved leasing the old Obici Memorial Hospital site on North Main Street for temporary storage of construction equipment, the property is finally earning money for the city of Suffolk, which has owned the property since 2008, when it was bought back from a developer that had purchased it from Suffolk with the intention of building a multi-use development there that would have featured theaters, residential units and commercial space.

Members of the EDA agreed this week to lease part of the 25-acre site to Inner-View for storage of construction equipment the company is using on a project to upgrade utilities along North Main Street. In reality, the $400 payment will not make much of a difference financially speaking, but it adds a few dollars to the bottom line, at least, which is a marked improvement over the property’s history since the hospital moved into a new building on Godwin Boulevard.

What Suffolk needs now — even more than a developer that wants to take control of the prime real estate along one of the city’s most heavily traveled roads — is a solid plan for the property that will give shape to the authority’s efforts to market it.

Already there has been interest in the property, and it seems clear that economic development officials have an idea of what they’d like to see there. The property is set to be rezoned at this week’s City Council meeting.

What city officials have failed to do, however, is to share their vision for the Obici property with members of the public. There is widespread public interest in the fate of the site. Many Suffolk residents still recall the building that once sat there and therefore have an emotional connection to the property. Still others have deeply held convictions about the kinds of services and opportunities that are missing in the downtown and core portions of Suffolk, and they see the Obici site as the place where the city can fulfill their hopes.

Suffolk officials could lay out a general vision for the Obici property without jeopardizing the marketing process. And doing so would give citizens a reason for hope that someday soon they can expect to see something other than heavy equipment and weeds at this prime location.

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