Published 11:15 pm Saturday, January 7, 2012
Cities’ proximity breeds ‘friendly competition’
While driving down the stretch of Interstate 664 in South Hampton Roads, visitors might not realize how close they are to three different localities. But for residents, the area has long been its own community.
In this area, the cities of Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk converge to form a region that includes parts of North Suffolk, Churchland and Western Branch.
For the people who live in this area, borders are blurred, and there’s easy access to a wide array of the amenities offered by all three cities.
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The city governments, on the other hand, face the challenge of getting citizens to spend money in their city while trying to pull business from other places.
Kevin Hughes, the director of economic development for Suffolk, said it’s only natural that there is competition for the retail and tax dollars.
“I would characterize the competition as very friendly,” he said.
The unique thing about this region, he said, is that all three cities have established residential and retail outlets.
With retail in Harbour View, for example, his office is trying to meet two main goals.
“We obviously want to provide shopping opportunities for residents of Suffolk, and at the same time it’s great to have people come over from places,” Hughes said.
He thinks Suffolk has a slight advantage in that area with Harbour View.
“Western Branch and Churchland have developed over the years a little more than us,” Hughes said. “Some of that is beginning to show in their infrastructure and development, and we’re at the point where we’re the new kid on the block.”
Chesapeake’s director of economic development, Stephen Wright, said the biggest challenge in that region is the fact that residents don’t really care what city they are in while shopping.
“Shoppers want to get good products at a good price,” he said.
As a result, he said, Chesapeake tries to develop great amenities that will serve its citizens and surrounding localities.
“At the end of the day, I’m sure (Portsmouth and Suffolk) would like to see their citizens spend all their money in their cities,” Wright said. “We’re certainly no different in Chesapeake.”
Like Wright, LaVoris Pance, the director of marketing and communications for Portsmouth, said Portsmouth would like to retain as many dollars as possible, but the city can’t control where shoppers go.
“We do our due diligence to provide those amenities,” Pance said.
Additionally, he said, Portsmouth thinks regionally and hopes to work with its neighbors to make Hampton Roads an ideal shopping venue for all residents.
Wright said while Harbour View and the Churchland retail areas offer good choices, he thinks Chesapeake Square continues to be a premier destination for that area.
“That’s where most of the retail activity is,” he said.
In contrast, Hughes said, the Harbour View area has an advantage, because it has three diversified shopping centers that are connected by Hampton Roads Parkway, along with several major employers in the immediate area.
“You start to collect an employment base around the retail environment,” Hughes said. “I think that’s very different than in Churchland and Western Branch.”
Often , the cities compete for the same retailers.
Chesapeake Square recently added a new Cinemark XD Theater to attract moviegoers who were going to the Harbour View Regal.
“We realized citizens in Chesapeake were going to Harbour View to go to the movies, and after they would shop and go to eat,” Wright said.
Suffolk, on the other hand, was aware the Chesapeake theater was coming and has met with Regal officials to discuss the effects.
“I think they realized that there will be people who want to see the new theater at first,” he said. “But at the end of the day, because of the restaurants and the layout of Harbour View, where it’s a community feel, they thought they had the best site for them.”
While all three cities compete for retailers, some businesses choose multiple locations, like PetSmart, which has stores in both Chesapeake Square and Harbour View.
The competition is all in good spirits, but officials from all three cities keep their eyes on one another.
“We know the retailers they are talking to, and they probably know which ones we are talking to,” Wright said. “We try to get as many wins as we can.”