City, college seek input on site

Published 8:28 pm Monday, February 21, 2011

The Urban Land Institute is in town this week and will spend its time formulating a recommendation on what to do with about 440 acres of land in North Suffolk.

The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research institute, has provided a panel of experts representing all aspects of land use and development to make a recommendation on the site. Tidewater Community College and the city of Suffolk paid $60,000 each to bring the panel to Suffolk.

The site contains about 55 acres owned by the city’s Economic Development Authority and 389 acres owned by the Tidewater Community College Real Estate Foundation. The sites formerly were used as the Nansemond Ordnance Depot and TCC’s Suffolk campus.

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On Monday, the panel took a tour of the city as well as the specific sites and attended a welcome reception at the Hilton Garden Inn in Harbour View.

Today, it will conduct about 80 interviews, mostly in person, with elected officials, city and college administrators, EDA members and other stakeholders to identify the best uses for the waterfront property. It will spend Wednesday and Thursday preparing a report, with the results to be announced Friday morning.

“It’s got some challenges,” said Thomas Eitler, vice president for advisory services for the Urban Land Institute. “There’s no question about it.”

But, he added, the wealth of space and natural beauty at the site act strongly in its favor.

One of the biggest challenges is the economy, Eitler said. But knowing what will be done in the future puts the city and the college one step ahead in knowing what to “tee it up for when the economy returns,” he said.

Kevin Hughes, director of economic development for the city, said it made sense for two public entities to band together to bring the group to town.

“ULI is really the most prominent, best case practice group that exists for future development,” Hughes said.

The college’s portion of the land was transferred to the college’s real estate foundation, a nonprofit organization with a separate board, last year, said David Harnage, executive director of the foundation.

“Our task is to identify the future of what will happen at the site,” he said. “We found it important to joint with the city. It gives us a broad spectrum of ideas it may make sense to do at the site in the future.”