A word about centerpieces

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2003

The Mayor used the term at the podium during the groundbreaking ceremony for the highly lauded and &uot;vitally&uot; important Hilton Garden Inn. I used to think &uot;centerpiece&uot; was a floral arrangement, a focus point for all else that went on around it. Then I learned that the centerpiece of stone forming the top of an arch was the critical piece, without which it would all fall down.

In Suffolk it’s different. Here our centerpiece appears to be an ensemble of items strewn about our city that when viewed as a whole will be, as the Mayor states, the key to our future success. To name a few, we often hear about Hilton Garden Inn, Restored High School, Restored Prentis House, Restored Gardner Store, Restored Railroad Station, Restored Professional Building, and the new Courthouse. Also mentioned are the restored Main Street Center, restored Washington Street Center, and the new Police Precinct that will &uot;anchor&uot; the restored Fairgrounds project.

I don’t know for sure if all of this was planned in advance or just happened, but what is important is that it is all taking place downtown. The Mayor and other high officials of the city are certain that downtown restoration and improvement is central to what will guide the surrounding 430 square miles. The theory is that there must be a central hub attractive enough to catch the eye of movers and shakers in the outside economic world. The fear is that there will be a shortage of jobs industry growth unless it appears to the outsiders that we citizens are sophisticated enough to recognize that truth. We must be willing to use our tax dollars to create a favorable impression, a thriving central business community we can point to with pride. It must be a downtown that Suffolk citizens and tourists will want to visit. Not just to shop or deal with the many government controls, but a gathering place for the arts and entertainment. Virginia Beach, after decades of growth recently decided it didn’t have one.


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In the mind of many Beachers the lack of a town center was unspeakable so planners immediately set to work with pen and paper to decide what must be demolished some-where in the city so they could erect a tall symbol of power and status that would announce to the world that theirs is a proper city. Imagine that; all those years of planned and unplanned growth city &uot;management&uot; was miles from city central, so far out of town the citizens complained about the long trip to the courthouse. There simply had to be a symbolic &uot;downtown&uot; even if city government remained isolated at the far end of Princess Anne Road. In Suffolk, city officials, joined by like-minded influential citizens, suggest our current downtown be the jewel in Suffolk’s crown. Naturally, everyone with a business in that immediate area agrees wholeheartedly with that concept.

But Suffolk’s 430 square miles, two and a half times the size of Baghdad, automatically puts citizens miles apart. No longer just farmland, buildings blossom like fungi on a decaying log. Apparently we have the blossoming under some control but it is scattered everywhere and, quite naturally, places of business pop up wherever it may be profitable. The Suffolk downtown business area, deliberately stunted, should have its boundaries expanded. It actually reaches a mile or so up 460, a mile up Godwin Boulevard, west on 58, and south on Carolina Road. &uot;Downtown&uot; should actually be a large circle drawn around the lot of them.

Driving north it appears one is arriving in a different city, not metropolitan yet, but watch out. The economic growth up there is not peanuts or related to peanuts. Nothing needs to be restored; it is all new construction. There is no movie theatre in Downtown Suffolk but a 16-movie palace up there, and technical industry, schools, a hospital, and ordinary businesses to serve the fast-growing population. Are they, the north-end developers, aiming to create their own &uot;Uptown,&uot; and be in competition with the current downtown for our tax dollars? Will our politicians and influential citizens be as eager to provide safe haven, and centerpieces for the multiplying businesses up there? Stay tuned.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail at robert.pockilngton@suffolknewsherald.com.