Save that space

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2011

As city officials partner this week with the Tidewater Community College Real Estate Foundation and members of the Urban Land Institute, they need to remember how important the former TCC Portsmouth Campus has been for so long to the citizens of North Suffolk.

Ever since the Beazley Foundation gave the 389-acre property to the commonwealth for inclusion in its community college system in 1968, the property, located alongside the James River in what was once northern Nansemond County, has been a place where families went to play, where youngsters learned to ride their bicycles, where kids’ soccer teams practiced and played and where folks would go to cast a fishing line into the James River or just to watch the sun set over the water.

The college campus was, of course, an important academic resource to the area, but its value as a recreational area was a poorly kept secret for years.

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As area leaders and their consultants consider what to do with the property, including the 55-acre portion owned by the city itself, they’ll be sorely tempted to sell it to the highest bidder, take the money and refuse to look back. Such a choice almost certainly would result in the area being developed privately as office buildings or houses or a hotel. None of those uses, it should be noted, would be likely to include much public access to the fields or to the riverbank that TCC’s “Portsmouth Campus” has been so well known for.

But that recreational resource is vital in Suffolk, especially in the fast-growing northern end, which cannot be expected to squeeze into Bennett’s Creek Park — or even Sleepy Hole Park — for much of the foreseeable future. Even a good portion of the space on the old campus would ensure that residents of the city are not denied access to the important leisure resources that exist there.

Many Suffolk residents are hoping the Urban Land Institute group will make the same recommendation. Suffolk officials, however, must be prepared to press for the protection, no matter what the ULI suggests.