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Change in downtown Suffolk

Change is on the way for the Downtown Business Association. It’s time, according to Andy Damiani — who founded the organization and has served as its only president — for new leadership and fresh ideas.

Damiani, who announced earlier this month that he would like the group to find someone to replace him as its president, has always been a man of big ideas and an unmatched determination to do what it takes to promote Suffolk’s core downtown area. His shoes will be big ones for the group to fill, but members should be working double-time to do so, ever conscious of the importance of a vital, energetic and self-sustaining downtown at the heart of this growing, dynamic city.

During a meeting on Wednesday, Damiani and other members of the downtown association took some time to consider not just where the organization stands today, but also where they hope to see it in the future. Damiani hopes for an association that can provide more benefits to its members, such as small business insurance and other perks. He also wants it to be incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization, capable of receiving donations and grants — not just dues — to pay for its programs. He’d like to see the business organization offer group health insurance and other benefits to its members.

But the most important goals the downtown group is setting are those that will set the tone and the course of business in the core downtown area. Things like accessibility, diversity and publicity need to be among the foundational issues that both the DBA and Suffolk’s city administration address in relation to the downtown business district.

Damiani foresees a downtown that is compact and walkable, with plenty of businesses that are well promoted throughout the region. And he’s on the right track. If Suffolk is to be more to Hampton Roads than a place to sleep and do weekend shopping at the big-box retailers, the downtown core should be the driving force in that effort. But for the city to have an effective downtown — one that draws shoppers, diners and other visitors from all over Suffolk and, indeed, Hampton Roads — the area must be carefully and thoughtfully planned, widely marketed and well led.

There’s change in the works in downtown Suffolk. With the right leadership, with cooperation from the city government and administration and with a strong commitment to the process by the businesses located there, that change could become the spark that ignites the economy of the southern part of the city. Ask Andy Damiani; he’ll tell you how important the change could be.