Losing its charm

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, September 15, 2011

The fact that empty buildings in the 100 block of West Washington Street are finally being renovated is sure to warm the hearts of many of those who love downtown Suffolk. For too long, that particular block — one of the city’s most conspicuous — has suffered from lack of attention, both by the city and by developers. A restaurant, a bar and a couple of mini malls have long looked across the street at the empty windows, boarded entrances and deteriorating brickwork that have dominated the street there for years.

Now comes a developer with a lot of experience renovating nearly abandoned spaces throughout downtown Suffolk and turning them into loft apartments. Monument Construction is renovating three connected buildings in the 100 block of West Washington Street. Formerly commercial buildings, they will now house 26 loft apartments. The company has done similar projects at East Point Plaza on East Washington Street and at 75 Commerce Street.

Both the East Point and Commerce projects are appealing conversions that have proven popular among those looking to rent living space in the downtown area. Some of those folks are attracted by the prospect of living close to where they work, and some of them by the amenities offered by the new spaces once Monument gets done with the conversions. Some others seek a place to live with a bit of a vibe; they’re looking for the kind of place where they can hang out with friends at a bar or restaurant and then walk home, where they can go shopping on Saturday without getting in the car.


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And while the conversions are preferable to those buildings continuing to sit empty and decaying for years, we wonder if downtown loses a bit of just what those folks are seeking when residential spaces swallow up what once belonged to retailers and restaurants.
Clearly, it should be readily admitted that nobody has been knocking down the doors of the city’s Economic Development agency asking for information about opening a small downtown grocery or a shoe store or any of the other retail outlets that once could be found there but now are gone. So it’s hard to make the case that the conversions should not have been allowed.

Still, it’s also hard to shake the feeling that every new downtown building swallowed up by residential apartments — regardless of how nice they might be — represents the loss of another little bit of downtown Suffolk’s charm.