It should be fun to watch
Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003
It would be fun to watch our Department of Tourism, DOT, apply for certification to be considered official in the eyes of state government, etceteras. No doubt there are reams of forms to be completed and tons of fudge required to fill the spaces. I can see them now, late hours around the Prentiss House table, furrowed brows, as they labor to list Suffolk’s current attractions. Talk about creativity, great imaginations, tongue in cheek, and even now and then a sly smile as they put pen and pencil to paper. Perhaps they should stick with a pencil because a surge of conscience might reflect a need for erasure.
The objective is apparently to have us on the tourist trail known for Eco-tourism, whatever that may be. I believe it is to include the Dismal Swamp, Lone Star Lakes and the many lakes and streams nestled in the 430 square miles. The other side of the coin is our history. While the many books on the subject of Suffolk are interesting, the actual sites are far from complete. Riddick’s Folly about sums up recent history, 1800 plus, and we have on our tax rolls dozens of homes once beautiful but now needing help. Obici House covers Amedeo’s efforts in the 1940s. We have the potential but are far short of being able to display the Victorian period satisfactorily. It they could include Mr. and Mrs. Willis’ home on Town Point it would add immeasurably.
OK, I’ll admit there is a chance that in a few years the DOT could develop enough interest in the area to draw a busload of tourists for a day. That is if the two parties involved in the Mattanock Town Indian village stop squaring off and get on with it. But I’m afraid that’s years away. So is the Hilton, so is the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center, no matter where they put it. And a visitor center at Lone Star would tend to bring more traffic and exploration of that valuable asset. Trips up or down the Nansemond don’t net a dime unless we buy the Elite. The Railroad Museum is a stop for those with railroad history or an interest in railroading. Peanut plants are big but not interesting from the outside. Toss in a few golf courses, which are everywhere, and we’ve covered it.
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What we all should be watching is that the Suffolk Visitor brochure is not too full of fudge, not too creative, maybe it could even be factual so no one will be disappointed if the pretty glossy paper descriptions don’t measure up. You find dishonest brochures all over the world. We don’t want to be on record as a &uot;Trap.&uot; The director has told me face-to-face that she will succeed in making the DOT a paying proposition, that my doubt inspires her and she will eventually shove it down my throat. Well, I certainly hope so; her budget is currently $280,000 annually. Five years after the inception of DOT we will have seen $1,500,000 fly out the window to accomplish what? That’s the question.
If she can toss a pie in my face I hope it will contain the profit figures for that period. I will stay away from the next meeting of the DBA where the director will speak of her plans to draw profitable tourists to Suffolk. I don’t want her to see me smiling.
It has been relayed to me that the original Obici Hospital had more on the stick than given credit for. The &uot;too small&uot; room situation can be resolved with a sledge hammer. When Amedeo’s architects designed it, each floor could have been left nearly wide open except for heavy steel columns. Those steel columns are well anchored in the ground and the plan was to build up, several stories if necessary. It could still be done. The man in Atlanta, who wants to buy it from the board, will pay $3.5 million and pick up the monthly tab to keep the building maintained. It will cost the board about $1.5 million to tear it down. So the board must figure it can turn down $3.5 million, spend $1.5 million, and sell the land for at least $5 million, break even, and to hell with what the citizens think. The board has heard the offer from the gent in Atlanta but seem to be in a big hurry to ignore it and tear it down. Is something missing here? Who knows, maybe the property will end up being our new City Hall. We sure don’t need another shopping center. All of a sudden we are no longer interested in preserving our history.
So what’s the hurry? What we need is a march on the board of directors with placards high.
Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.