I’m a believer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 2, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Like my friend, Robert Pocklington, whose column appears elsewhere on this page today, I, too, was fortunate to attend Thursday’s ground breaking of the Hilton Garden Inn at Constant’s Wharf.

Listening to the speeches, one of which, by Mayor E. Dana Dickens III, is also reprinted on this page, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of rejuvenation, a sense that I think was shared by others, and our city.

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For me, I’ve been out of town a lot this month and travel always tires me. That on the heels of Isabel and the long hours and physical exertion associated with that had begun to take a toll on my now 42-year-old frame. I’ve been mired in a bit of a funk. Writing this column each week has been like pulling teeth. The more you mope around, the more things pile up and soon you find yourself in a real hole, not just an emotional hole.

But looking out over the beauty of our downtown waterfront while listening to Gerry Jones, director of capital projects for the city, describe the 35-slip marina, 4.5-acre park, boardwalk and all brick facility that a little over a year from now will occupy the site, I couldn’t help feel my condition improving, along with that of downtown.

Over the past three years since I’ve been in Suffolk, I’ve been all over the place on the hotel issue. Depending on the weather, it seems, I’ve ranged from being a rabid supporter one day to Pocklingtonesque cynic the next.

I lived in Hopewell for about eight years and when I arrived there in 1988, folks were still licking their wounds after being stiffed on a hotel deal a year or so earlier. Several were still sarcastically sporting buttons handed out at the groundbreaking event that said, &uot;I attended the groundbreaking for the downtown hotel.&uot; I hope the clever little luggage tags passed out at Thursday’s event don’t become a similar reminder of an embarrassing fiasco.

And I’m sure it won’t. Suffolk in 2003 is much different than the Hopewell of the mid-1980s. Hopewell was stagnant and in decline with businesses fleeing downtown like rats from a sinking ship and officials there were pinning their hopes on the hotel single-handedly lifting the community out of its malaise. Suffolk is dynamic and growing. We are looking for the hotel not to be our salvation, but simply to provide the boost needed to make us a real player where tourism and conferencing are concerned. Even, God forbid, if the Hilton Garden Inn is a dismal failure, it will merely be a blip on the juggernaut that is Suffolk.

Also, like it or not, everything Tom O’Grady and our Industrial Development Authority touches seems to turn to gold. And there’s more at work there than just timing. There’s obviously real talent and good planning at work. There are hundreds of communities in the United States that have as much going for them, or at least potentially, as does Suffolk. I see no reason to believe the hotel will not turn to gold either. I’ve become one of the faithful.

I was fortunate to get to speak for a few minutes after the ceremony with Steven Nicholas, vice president and chief quality officer of Noble Investment Group, whose company will operate the Hilton Garden Inn. He and I discussed the prospects for further quality development of Suffolk’s waterfront and I noted how nice it would be if there were something other than garages and fast food outlets along our waterfront. He said that he has seen hotels like the one in Suffolk be the impetus for such and he would not be surprised if the same happened here.

Of course, what would one expect him to say? But while Nicholas was caught up in the euphoria like everyone else, he seemed to have his feet firmly planted, noting that the mission is far from over. That as hard as people have worked to bring the project as far as it has come, they will have to work even harder to see it be the success it is hoped it will be. So I put some stock in what he says.

Regardless, I feel better about the hotel, and thanks to the fresh air, sunshine and upbeat speeches, returned from Thursday’s event feeling better about life in Suffolk and life in general. And to steal a phrase I hear somewhere, it’s a good time to be here.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. You can reach him at 934-9611, or at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.