So what’s your agenda?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

If you have been around Suffolk long enough, you remember when it was a small old downtown in the middle of a large open territory in which were scattered a few smaller villages. The distances between villages were enough to keep them unrelated to each other. They all took on greater significance when Nansemond County became Suffolk, but downtown Suffolk became the hub of the ”wheel” and many today are bent upon keeping it that way. It is a struggle and there are struggles within the struggle. There appears to be a collision of agendas.

First, there is a dispute about what constitutes downtown. There is this collection of businesses in what some call THE downtown, which encompasses a few blocks of buildings that have been there since the beginning of time. Their agenda is to have the city spend whatever dollars are necessary to keep it a viable business center. A few blocks north is the old railroad station once considered to be on the outskirts. A group there has an agenda to make that our historical district, apparently not realizing that many in the OLD downtown do not consider improvements made there in any way helpful to them. History buffs are aided by grants from local, state and federal funds, taxes collected from us, and they have no qualms about going after all they can get. They are abetted by those who believe the tourist industry is one key to our financial success. In between those two distinct locations, Betsy Brothers is successfully raising funds to restore the old Suffolk High School. Many more blocks north is the many millions Hilton agenda, again, not satisfying the need to make cash registers ring &uot;downtown,&uot; At least that is the opinion of many doing business there. Our Planners believe it is the combination of all these agendas that will eventually bring success to an expanded downtown.

Meanwhile, other business &uot;centers&uot; pop up and grow in many different sections of Suffolk. From the north side of Constant Wharf, north for a mile or so, businesses are packed so tightly together on Main there is only room behind them for more. Lowes, Wal-Mart and others are the result. After a brief break there begins the development on Godwin and the same on 460. At the west end of the Suffolk bypass is another area of alarming growth, to say nothing of the many commercial ventures throughout northern Suffolk. It’s quite easy to understand that businesses are the result of &uot;need&uot; where people live. Those who have moved away from Suffolk are unbelieving when they come back for a visit. A drive through what was once farmland is shocking. Homes and businesses are everywhere and you have to wonder if anyone is in control. Fortunately the city is.

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In most large cities there usually is a downtown, a central, a place one can point to as the key, the pivotal point, middle, central, mid point, mean, medial, etc. The sprawling Virginia Beach is attempting to create one, Norfolk’s is a collection of tall buildings, Chesapeake doesn’t seem to care. Our downtowners believe it is their birthright, that the area must retain its status if for no other reason than it is &uot;old,&uot; But the current boundaries must be tossed in the ashcan of history and &uot;redrawn&uot; to cover a much larger area. At the same time the agenda luminaries must find a way to bond – with a common goal of creating a locale the citizens, scattered all over the 430 square miles, will want to visit. Our city government is valiantly attempting a difficult financial balancing act and needs the cooperation of all the people with different agendas, including those stretched along Washington Street in both directions. If there is no concerted effort, old downtown – as I said months ago – will go the way of the dinosaur. There appears to be some hope.

Suffolk is awake to the fact we have a tiger by the tail. Thousands of people have moved in to our city with only one thought – to get away from wherever they were. Not all are here for just a bedroom, many see business opportunities. They are not tourists and expect to put down roots. But they own automobiles, and the roads that led them in also lead out to other shopping centers and many forms of entertainment. If people can manage to stay out of court, have no business at the DMV or City Hall, there is no NEED to go downtown. Thinking heads have got put ideas together to make it a WANT.

Where is that grassy area with trees and flowers, a cold beer, pie and coffee, ice cream, a band concert, movie theatre, outdoor caf, benches where friends can meet and talk? Maybe I’m back in the Twilight Zone, but there are places like that. Where is the pub, the bowling alley, the putt-putt golf, water-world? Where is the roller rink, the skateboard park, art gallery? My old car knows.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular columnist for the News-Herald.