A good problem to have

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2003

The turnaround that’s under way in Downtown Suffolk never ceases to amaze me.

Everywhere there are buildings being renovated and new businesses moving in.

The past three months have seen John Brown’s completion of the new Economic Development office atop the former Byrum Hardware and Chip Wirth’s long-awaited completion of the Prentis House, now the home of Suffolk’s Division of Tourism.

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Nearing completion is Mickey Garcia’s College Court renovation, and ready to get under way is Marathon Development Group’s project to return the Professional Building to its former glory, likely exceeding it.

Last Wednesday, Buddy Gaddams, president of Marathon, was the speaker for the Downtown Business Association’s monthly meeting.

Gaddams briefly outlined what will be involved in the $4 million Professional Building project. When completed early next year, it will house Suffolk School Board offices on its upper floors and a full-service restaurant – something badly needed in Suffolk – on its street-level floor.

If any of those who heard Gaddams’ remarks had been harboring any doubts about the future of downtown Suffolk, he likely laid them to rest. Gaddams said he is eager to do other projects in downtown because &uot;the growth is coming&uot; to Suffolk.

In addition, once the school board vamooses, dazzling plans are in the works for its current quarters behind the old courthouse. It’s been reported on a little, but Tourism Director Lynette Brugeman is spearheading an effort to fund the construction of an interpretive center for the Great Dismal Swamp. The proposed colonial-style brick structure would face Constance Road and would connect via causeway to the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s courthouse. While still merely a proposal, the center reportedly has the backing of Rep. Randy Forbes and there’s little reason to think that with Brugeman’s tenacity it won’t come to fruition.

Nearly all the funding is in place for the conversion of the former Suffolk High School into the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, the new police precinct will be occupied by spring, and ground has already been broken on the Fairgrounds revitalization project.

I’m sure there are other projects in the works that I have either overlooked or on information to which I’m not privy. It makes one wonder why it was thought necessary to assume so much risk on the hotel/conference center project.

Regardless, our downtown will soon be teeming with people who live here, work here or are visiting. As such, it was natural that what was on the minds of those who heard Gaddam speak Wednesday was, &uot;Where are they all going to park?&uot;

It’s a good question. Current accommodations are already stressed. The lot behind the Mills Godwin Courts building is always full. The lot on Saratoga street beside our own recently-renovated building will be at capacity once the school board moves in; and limited spots along streets downtown, according to the DBA President Andy Damiani, are often stupidly occupied by business owners, leaving no place for customers to park (Is it any wonder Wal-Mart runs so many out of business?).

Short-term solutions are in the works. There will be public parking, we’re told, behind the new Economic Development office, and it’s rumored that the small lot on the north side of the News-Herald office will soon be acquired by the city and converted to parking space. But that’s about it and that surely won’t suffice.

Downtown Development Coordinator Elizabeth McCoury told the DBA Wednesday that a meeting will soon be held to begin discussing the long-term solution, which is likely to involve some type of large structure.

While certainly important, a parking problem is merely a growing pain, and as Gaddams noted, it’s better than the alternative – having a ghost town. I don’t think it’s anything about which to be overly concerned. The bottom line is that it’s indeed &uot;a good time to be in Suffolk&uot; and before long will be a great time.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.