Help VDOT find a home

Published 11:05 pm Friday, May 16, 2014

If Suffolk officials have their way, one of the most attractive and exciting opportunities for commercial and residential development in the city could wind up being located on North Main Street. Not in the fast-growing and headline-grabbing Harbour View area of North Suffolk, but almost within walking (at least on a temperate, sunny day) distance of downtown.

Following a directive from the General Assembly — and initiated by a request from the city — the Virginia Department of Transportation has begun exploring its options for moving the headquarters operation currently located on North Main Street to some other campus-like compound. That new compound could wind up located in another part of the city or a developer could take the opportunity to put forward an offer to locate it in Chesapeake, Portsmouth or some other part of Hampton Roads.

The important thing for Suffolk is that VDOT vacating its current North Main Street location — which, coincidentally, is adjacent to the long-vacant site of the former Louise Obici Memorial Hospital — would result in a huge swath of prime real estate coming together for development.

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One of the drawbacks often cited for the hard-to-market Obici site has been its size, economic development officials say. It’s too big for the average strip mall and it’s too small for much of a mixed-use development to take root. And its waterfront location gives the property a cachet that should lift it above the average big box store.

But the addition of the adjacent — and surprisingly large — VDOT property would give developers many more options and, therefore, make the property much more attractive.

City officials are putting great stock into this scenario, to the extent that they’re giving VDOT all the help they can in finding a new home. There’s even the possibility the state agency could move to a 55-acre site the city’s Economic Development Authority owns near North Suffolk’s College Drive. It’s a location that would give VDOT trucks easy and quick access to just about any point in Hampton Roads.

It remains to be seen what sort of deal the city could work with VDOT for the property. Indeed, VDOT has an outstanding request for ideas from other entities around Hampton Roads, so there’s no guarantee the agency would finally locate in Suffolk, anyway.

But city officials are smart to give VDOT all the help it needs. The North Main Street property could well be the key to an economic resurgence in and around historic Suffolk.

As much as the city needs the trade and taxes that have been generated in North Suffolk, a shot of adrenaline in the marketplace of historic Suffolk would go far toward improving the livability of that part of the city and restoring the faith of those who already call it home.