Fairgrounds ‘gateway’ opens

Published 8:57 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2010

From rags to riches, it has been a Cinderella story for three buildings, just east of the train tracks, on East Washington Street in downtown Suffolk.

On Wednesday, developers, architects, city officials and Tom Powell, the man behind the project, cut the ribbon on East Point Plaza — a $4.1 million, three-building restoration project.

“It was complete garbage when we first bought it,” Powell said. “It had four walls, but they weren’t even square. The building hadn’t been inhabited since the ‘50s or ‘60s.”

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But when he saw them in 2005, Powell saw the wet, rotting and termite-infested buildings as diamonds in the rough.

With help from national and state tax credits available for restoring the area and input from the City of Suffolk, the buildings have since been transformed into commercial space — reflecting their 103-year-old original design — and 32 residential loft apartments, complete with granite countertops, exposed pipes and brick faade.

Commercial space already has been completely sold to the Addison Group, Powell’s marketing agency, and 70 percent of the residences have been filled.

“We thought it would take one to two years to fill the buildings,” Powell said. “We’re certainly excited we’ve had such a good response.”

The plaza area outside will be equipped with wireless Internet, and Powell hopes it will provide a gathering area for community members.

“Our apartments are pet friendly, so it gives owners an area to take them,” he said.

He also has hopes of holding community block parties, closing the street from Liberty to Hall and using the stage area as a focal point.

Along with the Health and Human Services building and the Phoenix Bank building, the East Point Plaza project is part of a 10-year effort to revitalize the Fairgrounds development, what was once the center of the city’s manufacturing and agricultural processing establishment.

“It brings an entire population base to the area that wasn’t there before,” said Kevin Hughes, Suffolk’s economic development director.

The buildings set a bar for new developments, he said, and serve as a starting point for other residences in the Fairgrounds development.

“We’re excited to see the plan come together and see its ripple effects,” Hughes said, adding he has spoken with other developers and the plan is to continue to move forward to revitalize the area.

“We see this in the master plan as being the first building revitalized in the area,” Powell said. “It’s a gateway for the Fairgrounds.”