Critics ignore city’s widespread investments

Published 9:24 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A column in the Aug. 28 edition of The Virginian-Pilot, “A Tale of Two Downtowns,” could have more aptly been titled “A Tale of One City.” While it did not necessarily appear to be the author’s motive for the piece, the commentary unintentionally but accurately conveyed the new philosophy and way of doing business for Suffolk’s current council and administration: Suffolk is one city.

We are very proud of our beautiful downtown. Wherever you look, you will find unique shops, a variety of restaurants, highly sought-after condos and apartments and ribbons being cut on new businesses.

Last year the city of Suffolk was the recipient of the “Award of Merit” from the Downtown Development Association for the redevelopment projects in Downtown Suffolk from 2005 to 2008. The application highlighted the public/private development that has occurred in Downtown Suffolk which included 70 projects and business, 792,889 square feet of impacted commercial and residential space, capital investment of $162,244,000 and the creation of 480 jobs.

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Energy certainly can be felt around three of the major projects currently under way in the core downtown area; East Point Plaza, the Obici Foundation and 126 and 130 West Washington Street. These projects alone represent $4.7 million of private capital investment.

Our city staff works very hard to attract and support businesses that choose to locate in Suffolk. The city continues to invest in job creation and critical infrastructure in the Carolina Road corridor, which is a vital component of a larger comprehensive planning strategy to bring more residents and workers to the city’s urban core.

However, it is important to recognize that the role of government is to leverage private investment, but not to subsidize private interest in perpetuity with taxpayers’ dollars. While we will continue to foster and support the revitalization of downtown, those efforts cannot and will not be to the exclusion of the needs of the rest of Suffolk’s 430 square miles that more than 81,000 residents call home.

While the author suggested that “Suffolk’s neglect has squandered years of investment,” we invite him to walk further than one city block to see the amazing progress our city has made by focusing on completing critical projects that languished for more than a decade, not only in the heart of downtown but throughout the City of Suffolk.

In providing for all of Suffolk’s citizens, one needs to look no further than just a few of the ongoing and recently completed projects, such as the Kings Fork Public Safety Center in the Chuckatuck area with $7.9 million of public investment, the East Suffolk Recreational Center in the Cypress area with $6.3 million of public investment, and the new police administration building in the downtown area with $5.7 million of public investment.

An additional $6.5 million has been invested in Finney Avenue and Prentis Street extensions and East Washington Street undergrounding and streetscaping.

Each of these projects is an investment in the growth and future of our city and will ultimately benefit the quality of life for our entire community. Regarding the observation that a “major revitalization project to build homes near Planters stalled,” a visit to the new $15.7-million, LEED-certified, Health and Human Services building might provide a better perspective.

Because of the actions of this City Council and city administration, projects that are now moving forward include major renovations of the Phoenix Bank and the Old Courthouse. These projects not only will allow for significant savings of taxpayers’ dollars, but both have important historical significance, as well.

However, it is important that we not forget the major investments in other citywide projects, like the new water tank project in the Whaleyville area, with $4 million of public investment; the Holland water system improvements in the Holy Neck area, with $1.4 million of public investment; as well as traffic signals, sidewalks, roadway and related infrastructure improvements in both the Sleepy Hole and Nansemond areas.

Suffolk is a growing city with unlimited potential. Managing its growth and needs requires broad vision, strategic planning, fiscal responsibility and strong leadership. Having the courage to place the needs of the entire city ahead of the needs of a few is not always popular, but is the only way that Suffolk will move forward as one strong city.