Published 7:16 pm Monday, July 18, 2011
Former Suffolk Mayor Andy Damiani, sometimes known as Mr. Downtown for his efforts on behalf of Suffolk’s core business district, received some well-deserved publicity over the weekend connected to his tireless quest to bring the downtown area back to its once-great status as a retail hub for Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater.
In a story in this newspaper by Tracy Agnew, Damiani lamented the status of the 100 block of West Washington Street, while taking heart over the growth that has been occurring on the northern side of that street. West Washington’s demise and slow rebound has been a microcosmic example of the near-death of the downtown business district, and Damiani’s own properties there have led the painfully slow rebirth. A coincidentally timed story in the Virginian-Pilot from Norfolk described Damiani’s broad service to the city throughout much of his adult life, especially in light of his work on behalf of the downtown area.
Andy Damiani has been a great asset to the city of Suffolk since he first arrived in the city. As a businessman, as a councilman, as mayor and as cheerleader, he has worked for many years to improve the city. He deserves the good publicity.
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Similarly, the downtown area of the city deserves the benefit of good people who understand its importance, both to the history and to the future of Suffolk. North Suffolk in recent years has received a lot of attention, and that’s appropriate, considering its location closer to the heart of Hampton Roads, as well as its desirability in terms of property availability, transportation infrastructure and symbiotic industries.
But the importance of a vibrant, growing downtown is something that communities around the nation are rediscovering. Look at Norfolk, for example, where a once-seedy Granby Street now bristles with activity. Or at Virginia Beach, which considered a central retail district so important that it built a downtown area, the Virginia Beach Town Center.
Suffolk’s downtown might never match those in Norfolk or Virginia Beach in scale or economic influence, but it can still be an important part of the equation, both for business interests and for the city, which could realize significant tax collections from an increased base of businesses there.
It’s time for Suffolk to turn at least a part of its attention back to downtown. The entire city will benefit from it.