Moving downtown

Published 10:08 pm Monday, October 4, 2010

Whenever people in Suffolk talk about the revitalization of the downtown area, they’re likely to mention restaurants and retail stores. After all, a true rebirth of the city’s core cannot take place without giving people outside of downtown a reason to drive in and people who already live there plenty of reasons not to drive out.

But there’s another factor that must be involved in any comeback. Buildings that have sat empty for years and structures that have been allowed to fall into disrepair must be brought back to life and put back to use to the greatest possible extent.

Downtown visitors can see the evidence of such revitalization happening on East and West Washington streets, along North Main Street and along Finney Avenue in Suffolk. As former retail locations, restaurants, warehouses, grocery stores and other facilities are transformed into loft apartments, retail malls and other creative spaces, the character of downtown Suffolk is changing.

One example of the creative repurposing of old downtown buildings has been the move to convert old retail and warehouse buildings into lofts and other apartment spaces. Most recently, a former popcorn-machine factory on Commerce Street was renovated and converted into loft apartments by Monument Construction, a company that specializes in such conversions. The 75 Commerce Lofts project is but one repurposed building among several such high-profile projects in recent years. Despite the recession — or, perhaps, because of it — all have had a level of success that would have been surprising to the naysayers who believed there was little reason to live downtown.

What folks have learned is that coupling the relatively carefree loft life with a growing sense of culinary quirkiness can make for a powerful draw to the downtown area. And getting people to consider moving downtown can only bode well for the area’s business prospects. When the retail finally catches up, Suffolk is destined to have a city core with an enviable mix of residential, government, retail, restaurant and even industrial neighbors. And that makes for the kind of place that people will drive in to visit.