A grand vision

Published 11:06 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An artist’s rendering of a plan proposed by the Urban Land Institute shows an amphitheatre and beaches at the end of a grand parkway on the old Tidewater Community College property in North Suffolk.

Groups expect a bright future for TCC property

If you were standing at the spot near where the Nansemond and James rivers intersect 150 years ago, you might have witnessed the clash of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia during the Civil War.

Fast forward 100 years from that time and you’d likely be surrounded by a sea of fresh-faced collegians attending what would become the “Portsmouth” campus at Tidewater Community College.

Twenty years from now, a visit to the 444-acre site in North Suffolk could reveal residents of a thriving apartment and retail complex, out for a stroll before catching a riverside concert from their seat in an open-air amphitheater.


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After changing hands several times through the years, the site, currently owned partly by the city’s Economic Development Authority and partly by the Tidewater Community College Real Estate Foundation, is on the road to achieving a new vision.

City and college officials hired the Urban Land Institute earlier this year to develop a solution for the site.

The consultants came up with a comprehensive mixed-use plan that includes retail space, office buildings, restaurants, hotels, a variety of residences and public use space.

“This is the best property in Hampton Roads,” said Allen Folks, one of the panelists who visited the city. “This is Suffolk’s moment. This is your time.”

In a presentation to city leaders, the ULI panel outlined the location’s benefits — the large site, the area’s rich history, its gateway location, the waterfront property and more. But the property also has challenges — it’s an active Superfund site, there are large, unusable buildings, there’s limited potential for expansion and the possibility of shoreline erosion and archeological finds exists.

“This is not going to be easy, but if done properly, it’s going to be great,” panel member Donna Lewis said.

In its recommendation, the group suggested a wide variety of uses — 1.3 million square feet of office space for research and development for medical and military uses; 500,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and highway-oriented space; and 2,100 units of apartments, townhomes, condominiums and houses. The plan uses about 319 of the available 444 acres.

The proposal focuses on interconnected streets, walkability, well-designed landscapes, a public waterfront area and a variety of public use space — everything a growing community needs to satisfy its residents.

“This really validates the energy and excitement we’ve had all along,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said.

Since the ULI proposed the mixed-use development in February, two hurdles already have been overcome.

First, the city helped the Economic Development Authority pay off the 55 acres it purchased in 2006. The acreage combines with the TCC-owned land to create the development.

And seven companies responded in October to a request for proposals from the city to make the site “shovel-ready.”

So what’s up next for this prime sample of North Suffolk real estate?

TCC president Deborah M. DiCroce said there are many steps on the road to realizing the group’s vision.

“I think it’s a good first step in taking it to this next level of looking at best use,” DiCroce said. “It’s a complicated, complex process.”

Perhaps the most important component will be bringing Suffolkians in on the vision. DiCroce said she wants to ensure the community will be happy with the decision.

“When someone sees it in 20 years, they should look at it and say, ‘They did the right thing,’” she said.