First impressions of W. Washington Street

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When it comes to downtown revitalization, one could argue that Suffolk isn’t in a position to be choosy. Entrepreneurs haven’t exactly been falling over themselves in recent decades to roll the dice on downtown’s future prosperity.

Bless those who have — from Andy Damiani and Ralph Nahra to Harper Bradshaw and Ed Beardsley and, on a larger scale, the Richmond-based Monument Cos., which almost singlehandedly took on the Herculean task of resurrecting commerce on the south side of West Washington Street’s 100 block.

The once-thriving corridor was for decades a decaying eyesore, even as Damiani spruced up the opposite side of the street.

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Monument impressed skeptical locals a few years back with development of loft residential and a couple of downstairs retail spaces on the block’s eastern corner. Flash forward through the national real estate collapse, and Monument was back with an even grander plan: revitalization of seven more buildings for mixed commercial and residential use at a price tag of $9.5 million, believed to be the largest private investment in downtown in 15 years.

City officials last week cut the ribbon on that development, dubbed Washington Square, with deserved fanfare. The colorful, freshly painted facades alone did wonders for downtown’s eye appeal. Take a stroll down West Washington today, and you’ll feel a sense of pride where shame, and occasional fright, once gripped pedestrians.

About a third of 67 new residential units, priced at $900 to $1,400 per month, already are leased, company officials report. A growing downtown residential base can be nothing but helpful to commercial development.

Monument also has announced a handful of new commercial tenants in the newly renovated West Washington street-level storefronts. The initial lineup raised interest and eyebrows — a barber shop, spa and something called a hookah lounge.

A confessed fuddy-duddy, I had to ask my much younger friends to learn that a hookah lounge is an establishment where patrons smoke flavored tobacco, or shisha, from a communal apparatus at each table.

Hookah lounges are apparently quite the rage in metropolitan areas. It is also, for better or worse, the new face of revitalization on West Washington Street. I will keep an open mind, as should all of us who are rooting for a prosperous, re-energized downtown Suffolk.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is