Press for an agreement

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suffolk city officials were to have started work Monday on developing a plan that would result in the orderly, efficient and profitable transformation of 444 acres of property in North Suffolk into a mixed-use development that would satisfy a variety of public needs, while at the same time providing a rich potential source of taxes and employment.

The former Portsmouth Campus of Tidewater Community College, located at the end of College Drive, at the confluence of the Nansemond and James rivers in northernmost Suffolk, has been largely abandoned since the school opened a new campus off of Victory Boulevard in Portsmouth. The future fate of the Suffolk property has been a mystery during that period, but officials took an important early step toward determining that fate last week, when they worked with a group of planners and developers from the Urban Land Institute to develop a potential plan for the site.

The proposal that emerged calls for a mix of residential uses, office spaces, retail shops, restaurants and public spaces designed around wide interior and riverside walkways and an exciting combination of water features and public art.

Email newsletter signup

There is much to be said in favor of the plan. There are no big-box stores, the buildings are not intended to be designed to look like shoeboxes, the business mix would complement the technological bent of the area’s existing business base and the whole development would happen in an area whose growth is expected to mushroom within the next 25 years.

One of the first things that must happen for the plan to come to fruition is for the city and the college to put together an agreement that would make them partners in the site’s development. Since Suffolk owns the 55-acre property that serves as the gateway into the area, anything built there will set the tone for whatever is built on the college’s portion of the site.

Furthermore, officials with the Tidewater Community College Real Estate Foundation must agree on a plan of development that keeps the rivers accessible, that preserves large portions of the property as public areas and that offers an appropriate mix of uses for the people of Suffolk. They must, for example, be dissuaded from selling the land bit by bit for mini mansions that block access to the water and eat up the wonderful public spaces that generations of Suffolkians have enjoyed there.

The agreement is a vital piece of the development puzzle. Once it’s signed, work can and should begin on engineering and site preparation for the first phases of the project.

There is much at stake with this property. A careful approach toward its development could guarantee the college and the city a nice real estate windfall. The right approach could do that and at the same time give Suffolk hope for future benefits from taxes and employment. There’s work to be done and little time to waste.