A good development

Published 8:35 pm Monday, October 17, 2011

Suffolk’s economic development officials are to be commended for not allowing the proverbial grass to grow under a proposal to improve a 55-acre parcel of land the city owns adjacent to the former Tidewater Community College Portsmouth Campus, located in North Suffolk, at the end of College Drive.

About eight months ago, consultants from the Urban Land Institute — after a few days in town to interview interested parties and research the development climate in Southeast Virginia — presented a bold plan for the property.

Under the ULI proposal, the city’s site and the college site, owned by the TCC Foundation, would be linked in a 444-acre multi-use development designed to provide public access to the Nansemond and James Rivers while allowing new business and industry a chance to take advantage of the property’s location near I-664.

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The plan presented back in July included residential, commercial, retail and recreational dimensions, with long public spaces that would help the area retain some of the open feeling that it now boasts.

When they presented the plan, ULI consultants admitted it would require a special level of commitment to start work in the midst of the nation’s economic turmoil. But they urged Suffolk and TCC leaders not to put off the preliminary work needed for the site until after the economy had improved. To do so, they said, would be to risk being unready for the businesses that are poised to grow when things finally and inevitably pick back up.

And Suffolk’s 55-acre site would be a key to the eventual success or failure of the development, the consultants said. Not only would it provide a site for the largely commercial development expected there, its location between the existing development and the 389 acres of the former college campus would help the city site set the tone for what followed. Therefore, Suffolk should move quickly to get the site shovel-ready, they said.

Suffolk leaders clearly took heed of the ULI advice. Just four months after hearing from the consultants, City Council moved to pay off a $5.6-million loan on the property. In July, the Economic Development Authority chose members Art Collins and Stacy Lewis to serve on a committee that will evaluate proposals to make the project ready for development. And earlier this month, the EDA accepted proposals from six different companies to do that work.

There’s not much Suffolk can do to repair the nation’s broken economy. What the city can do, however, is to be ready and able to offer a variety of attractive sites to companies looking to expand when things finally improve. Preparing the 55-acre site near TCC is a step in the right direction.