CenterPoint gives info

Published 10:42 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About 200 residents and city leaders turned out last night for a community meeting with CenterPoint Properties executives to talk and learn more about the potential for the CenterPoint Intermodal Center – Suffolk.

Patrick Roberts, deputy city manager for the city, opened the night introducing a brief review of the CenterPoint project’s history with the city so far. Roberts stressed there is still much work to be done and information to gather before the project is a go — hence events such as Wednesday night’s forum.

“We see that project has a lot of potential, but it also raises a lot of questions,” he said. Roberts added that members of the city’s planning staff were on hand to note the questions and issues residents and business owners had because those were the same questions they want to investigate.

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Roberts then turned the stage over to CenterPoint Vice President Neil Doyle, who welcomed CenterPoint colleague Bob Harbour. Harbour gave a quick presentation on how CenterPoint came to have the land for the project, as well as the master plan for the development.

Before ending his presentation, Harbour told his audience that the plan is extensive, but not imminent. He said while it is hard to gauge, the projection is the project will take seven to 10 years to finish, with an average of 500,000 feet a year being completed.

“This project will not happen overnight,” he said. “The impact of this project will not happen overnight.”

Up next was Vince Mastracco, from Kaufman and Canoles firm, to talk about the potential for state funding. Mastracco said that given the activity of the ports and Suffolk’s proximity to them, it was inevitable that port traffic would be an issue for the city.

“It’s either here or its coming through here,” he said. He added that the port will be held responsible for its role in the traffic conditions, and they have been notified they will be expected to provide some funding for this project.

Mastracco also noted that while no one has committed any dollars for the extension of Holland Road, there is word from the state level that this project is a necessary one for the state of Virginia.

Dave France, an engineer with Kimley-Horn and Associates, then gave the audience a better idea of what the city would get in exchange for this project. From public safety improvements with a 6.5 acre gift planned for the city to build a new fire station to public utilities improvements including water and sewer mains extended, a list of dozens of improvements or upgrades was given to the audience.

“I hope you can understand and appreciate the efforts we have gone to help the city on these regional issues…,” he said.

France also talked about the potential for employment with the development of the center. The 7,000 number given initially was based on a fiscal impact model study, which looked at the total impact of the center including on local businesses’ growth.

He said a more realistic number for new, permanent jobs on a project this size would be 2,900, not including construction jobs or other secondary impact jobs. Doyle late emphasized that those construction jobs would be coming from local construction and contracting companies.

At this point in the night, the microphone was turned over to the people for a question and answer time. Most of the questions revolved around the new jobs and the traffic problems, but the speakers were asked a variety of questions including what type of operations would be using the park, what hazardous material protocol would be taken and how far the widening of Route 58 to six lanes would go.

Some answers were unknown, and some answers were still hypotheticals at this point. For example, when asked what the pay scale would be for the 2,900 jobs, Doyle answered it was difficult to speculate because the number was drawn from different locations in the country.

“…There are better jobs than you generally think, but we don’t know,” he said.

When asked about truck traffic increasing on Route 58, France did not have the numbers on hand but did say, as a rule, truck traffic users want drivers on the road during off-peak hours in order to travel their merchandise as efficiently as possible. He added that right now truck traffic already averages about 15 percent of traffic, with no impact from the CenterPoint project.

At the end of the meeting, speakers and city leaders were available for follow-up questions as well as more specific information for residents.