• 54°

A boost for downtown

There’s a lot to like about the new lofts that opened this week in the old Damiani Building at the corner of Main and Washington streets in downtown Suffolk.

Perhaps the best thing to like is the simple fact that they exist. For years, that building has sat vacant, despite the efforts by its namesake, downtown champion Andy Damiani, and others to find a long-term use for it. The vacancy at one of Suffolk’s busiest and most visible intersections has been a sore spot for everyone who yearns to see the city’s core business district return to some degree of its former glory.

Retailers, developers and restaurateurs in downtown Suffolk have complained for a long time about their inability to build the momentum behind any effort at making downtown a viable shopping and dining destination. One or two good restaurants and galleries, they say, are insufficient enticement to folks who are used to the variety offered in shopping areas like Chesapeake Square or Greenbrier.

But the conversion of old buildings like the one that now houses The Lofts at 111 promises another way to build that momentum. As people move into the new building, they increase the downtown residential population, which already has been growing thanks to several other conversion projects that have been completed in recent years. And with all those new residents comes a built-in demand for restaurants and retail within walking distance of their new homes. That’s a good thing for downtown Suffolk.

It’s also pleasing to know that the old Damiani Building was not just torn down and replaced. As it did with high-end apartment projects at East Point Plaza and on Commerce Street, Monument Construction took this building and gave it a new life, while helping to save the historical character of downtown Suffolk. The city’s skyline didn’t have to be changed one iota in order to accommodate the more than two dozen new residential and retail units.

Downtown Suffolk might never compete with Virginia Beach’s Town Center or Greenbrier or, for that matter, even Harbour View in terms of how well it draws visiting shoppers and diners. But the establishment of a ready-made residential market there will go a long way toward creating the momentum needed to ensure that the city’s core business district is once again a lively, important center of commerce.