CenterPoint prepares final pitch

Published 11:25 pm Saturday, January 17, 2009

A public hearing and possible vote on the rezoning of property for the CenterPoint development are on the agenda for Suffolk City Council’s consideration Wednesday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in city council chambers at the municipal building, 441 Market St.

CenterPoint Properties, an Illinois-based developer, hopes to rezone about half the land it owns on U.S. Route 58, west of the congested area commonly known as “Hamburger Alley.”

The plan, as conceived by CenterPoint, would result in construction of an intermodal center that would include 13 buildings encompassing 5.8 million square feet of light and heavy industrial and distribution space, office space and general commercial facilities, as well as a rail yard adjacent to the CSX rail line.

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CenterPoint believes the Suffolk site is the best for its use.

“It would be advantageous to us, because it’s an industrial park that’s in a good location relative to both the port and the population,” said Neil Doyle, executive vice president for infrastructure and transportation development for CenterPoint. “I think it will be good for Suffolk because it’s going to be a huge economic development driver.”

The project, CenterPoint estimates, will bring about 3,000 jobs – one job for every 27 Suffolk residents – and millions of dollars in real estate taxes. However, trucks traveling to and from the development would use a stretch of U.S. Route 58 that already faces crippling traffic during most daylight hours on weekdays.

The developers have offered about $3.5 million for Holland Road improvements, as well as about $6.5 million in other off-site improvements, such as sewer extensions. However, estimates to widen Holland Road to six lanes range from $54 million to $94 million.

Doyle said the list of reasons CenterPoint chose Suffolk is a long one.

“We’re there because of the Virginia Port Authority, available land, the highway accessibility, the rail accessibility, the labor availability and most importantly, that the land that we purchased, half of it was zoned for what we require, and what was not zoned was in the existing Suffolk comprehensive plan for industrial use.”

The Virginia Port Authority is excited about potentially having the project so close, said Joe Harris, a spokesman for the authority.

“This would be an important piece of cargo handling infrastructure, and a company like CenterPoint, its reputation is well-known,” Harris said. “It would be another tool for us to go and market when we’re selling the services of this port.”

To have such a large intermodal center so close would help alleviate the growing need for facilities that are equipped to handle large containers.

“This would fill a portion of that need,” he said. “As the port grows, there’s going to be more demand for those kind of facilities.”

Harris said that although there is a perception that Hampton Roads traffic is congested, the area has far less congestion than, say, New York or Charleston, S.C.

However, the rail yard portion of the CenterPoint development could help address that issue, as well, he said.

“The more things we can move out of here by rail, that’s good for business and good for congestion,” he said.

Doyle said he hopes for a “yes” vote on Wednesday.

“We’ve always thought this was a good idea, but in today’s economic climate, it’s going to be a very good idea.”