They had their day in the sun

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 2, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

I had the privilege of attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hilton Garden Inn held in a tent at the top of the hill on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon. I was fortunate to be there considering I have spent two years writing about the hotel as spokesman for those citizens totally against the project, and doubting Tomases. I have never been keen on the idea and still think the money could have been better spent.

But now is not the time to be negative, it is nearly a done deal. When those bright gold shovels turned the earth it was go for broke, we hope not literally. Those in charge and their followers are satisfied with the financing, as are all connected parties, and none of them will have to take money out of their pocket if they are wrong. I’ve heard that the Stormont group is a father and son deal and some of them make it, some don’t. If the risks are not properly covered it may one day be necessary for taxpayers to ante up, but those in charge insist we are safe.

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The Lakeland High School band gave the ceremony a rousing send off which was followed by less rousing speeches. Each of the eight speakers congratulated the other seven speakers for their unrelenting effort to make things happen. So each speaker was thanked 56 times with most awards going to City Manager Herbert, Mayor Dickens, and Christine Ledford who found the money and was not a speaker. They finally got around to remembering Myles Standish who was city manager when the idea for the Hilton first blossomed.

All speakers related how difficult the project had been (it still ain’t built) with physical problems, financial problems, weather problems, and the negatives offered by many citizens who pay the taxes that are being expended. There are still many who wonder why anyone coming to Suffolk would stay in an expensive room. Surely the tourism director breathed a sigh of relieve when the financing check got in the mail. Just as surely the Holiday Inn franchise owner got out his calculator to figure the damage to his profit.

I stood with Steve Herbert high on the plain as we surveyed what the sights will be from the top floor of the Inn and we agreed much could be done to improve the view. There is the hope the Suffolk Oil Company will build a restaurant on stilts (high tides) and allow the foot bridge to cross the water. That owner has much to gain if the Inn is successful. I suggested the city begin to buy out surrounding businesses so we can create an inner harbor like Baltimore. Don’t laugh, Baltimore started with just one improvement. Hopefully McDonalds will not replace the hurricane-damaged arch.

We passed up the reception at Riddick’s Folly so we could do another segment of Andy Damiani’s Round Table Talk. I was only there for the Bob and Andy portion but I think Andy had P. Ward Robinett, Jr., President of Portsmouth TowneBank, the man with the big check that allowed the project to get off dead center. Mayor Dickens, also a guest, was very pleased with the day and the turnout. Guest John C. Harrell, Chairman of the IDA, all through the last two years, was like a terrier hanging onto the seat of the pants of the Hilton project. Nothing could make him let go. If this project is not successful, he is the one that folks will hang in effigy.

Several speakers borrowed Lynette Brugeman’s line, &uot;A good time to be in Suffolk.&uot; Perhaps if we, the nay sayers, had the vision the speakers and all those who enthusiastically backed the Inn apparently have, we might agree. Again, time will tell.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail at: