More room to grow

Published 10:15 pm Saturday, November 5, 2011

Apartments, retail, restaurants could fill North Suffolk spaces

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hardly anything exemplifies the differences between historic Suffolk and the area that has come to be known as North Suffolk more than the economic aspects of the two areas. Continuing its exploration of the things that make North Suffolk unique, but still vital to the city’s future, the Suffolk News-Herald will publish a series of stories about the economy of North Suffolk. This is the first installment of that series.

During the past 20 years, businesses have chosen Harbour View and the surrounding areas as their homes, and while much of the space is occupied, there is still room to grow.

Both vacant land and office space are available for development along Harbour View Boulevard and College Drive.

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Of the 2,300 acres that were available when Harbour View started, less than 100 acres of vacant land remain.

However, Bob Williams, the president of Tri-City Developers, said there is plenty that could be done with the land.

“I think apartments are very much needed,” he said. “It’s time for rentals in Harbour View.”

Williams said there are about 3,000 residential units in the Harbour View communities, which include the Riverfront, the Golf Villages and Burbage Grant, but none of them are rental units.

“If you have a mixed use community, you have to have rentals,” he said.

An apartment complex was originally planned for the community on a 54-acre piece of land between the Bon Secours complex and the Harbour View theaters.

Williams said the company that purchased the land planned to make it into a town center that would include apartments, shops and restaurants.

“It was a totally mixed-use project,” he said. “The economy has killed that concept.”

While he isn’t sure what will go in that space now, he said, he thinks it’s perfect for an apartment complex.

“Nice rental properties would work really nice in Harbour View,” Williams said.

In addition to the vacant land in Harbour View, there is plenty of office space available, especially with the recent disestablishment of U.S. Joint Force Command.

Gregg Christoffersen, vice president with Jones Lang LaSalle in Hampton Roads, the company that leases space in the Bridgeway Technology Centers, said the disestablishment left a lot of the spaces in the buildings vacant.

“It resulted in a number of defense contractors no longer being able to create the business to remain in northern Suffolk market,” he said.

Right now, Christoffersen said, there are a number of available spaces, the largest being 60,000 square feet.

He said most of the spaces could be used by either defense contractors or civilian companies.

“We’ve got a couple of spaces that are more likely to adapt to special use needs,” Christoffersen said. “The majority of rest of it could go to any office use.”

Although it might seem like a big space, he said, the company expects the spaces will be utilized by companies moving in as the Navy establishes its cyber warfare command center at the JFCOM buildings.

“As a result, I expect over next 12 months that all of the related interest to Navy Cyber Warfare coming on will begin to backfill and lease up all the available space we have there,” he said.

But defense isn’t the only business that can work in this space, and other companies already have started to move in.

Christoffersen said since the disestablishment, new Bridgeway tenants include Bon Secours and New Day Office Products and Furnishings.

“We are starting to see a diversification up there away from just defense contracting,” he said.

Another building that was left vacant after JFCOM’s disestablishment was one that was built for the command to use.

Williams said his company was in the process of building an 85,000-square-foot center next to the JFCOM buildings when former Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the closing.

“We were too far along with the building to stop it,” he said.

Williams said the building could be used for a variety of companies, and it is set up to comply with federal security regulations.

“We’re working on several prospects at the time,” he said.

Down the road from the former JFCOM site, there are a few plots of land open for development near the filled Harbour View East shopping center.

Next to the College Drive Chick-fil-A, there are about 50 acres available for commercial development.

The CB Richard Ellis Hampton Roads group is marketing the land to be broken up into pieces for different retail spaces.

While his group isn’t in charge of the development, Williams said, he would love to see new restaurants in the area.

He said he thinks Harbour View is missing a good Chinese restaurant and a great seafood place.

“I’d love to see a Bonefish Grill in here,” Williams said.

In addition to restaurants, he would like to see more retail pop up in the area.

In the shopping center that includes the movie theater, two spaces are available in the building that includes the AT&T store.

“There’s still a need for more retail,” Williams said. “In the next couple of years, I think you’ll see more come in because of the location and the demand.”

He said he is pleased with how much of the space is filled in Harbour View and is excited about the new developments.

“That’s good news for the city and everyone,” Williams said.