Leadership vital to aid downtown renewal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Leadership is the key to bringing downtown areas back to life, a Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority official told the Downtown Business Association Wednesday, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Ernest Freeman, executive director of the NRHA, noted that efforts at revitalizing Norfolk’s downtown have centered on residential development and that his agency has helped lead the effort.

While the NRHA, like Suffolk’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority, is charged with managing housing units, his agency is also deeply involved in property acquisition, demolition, construction, and development.

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He also noted that the SRHA’s charter is similar and could serve the same function.

&uot;It’s an opportunity to leverage the power of your redevelopment authority to make things happen,&uot; Freeman said.

To do that, he said, it takes the Redevelopment Authority working closely with City Council and the economic development department and that someone has to take charge and champion the effort.

&uot;Leadership is what you need to focus on – political as well as civic,&uot; he said. &uot;You’ve got to have people who care and will spend the time to work it out.&uot;

Much of Suffolk’s incipient Neighborhood Initiative plan that is being adopted into the city’s comprehensive plan is geared toward making downtown areas attractive to residential development.

Freeman acknowledged that becoming involved development activity is not easy and that the NRHA has often found itself on the receiving end of litigation as a result of those efforts.

&uot;It takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight and there’s some pain involved,&uot; he said.

On Tuesday night, SHRA commissioners voted 5-1 to end the authority’s 19-year relationship with its attorney Jeffrey L. Gardy and contracted with Norfolk-based Crenshaw, Ware and Martin, which also represents the NRHA.