It’s time for a city park

Published 8:18 pm Thursday, February 12, 2015

By Leslie Peterfeso

Back in the early ‘80s, pretty much all of downtown Suffolk’s waterfront had been obliterated by car washes, food processing plants, beverage bottling, tire sales, gas stations and other commercial buildings.

One exception was Constant’s Wharf, where the historic Nansemond County clerk’s office once stood. This edifice, paired with the old courthouse on the other side of Constance Road, marked the entrance to historic Downtown Suffolk.

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The city razed the county clerk building, ignoring the historical society’s hopes of preservation. Many tons of backfill later, the Hilton Garden Inn was built on the site.

As a concession to the citizens — but I suspect more as an amenity to the hotel — a fragment of land was made into a festival site and boat dock. These facilities abut a busy intersection, leaving very little green space — definitely not a city park.

Since then, Suffolk got excited about preserving its past. We’ve seen a lot of new and restored pubs, clubs, apartments and shops open and close.

The old high school has been repurposed as a cultural center and the smaller school next door as lofts. A downtown street was chopped off to improve the view, and a new street was created just for fun. A lot of private, grant and tax money was spent to attract visitors and residents to Downtown Suffolk.

It would have been a good time to plan a city park.

It’s not that we don’t have any parks. Nicely appointed tot lots are sprinkled across the city. Lake Meade Park behind the North Main Street Farm Fresh is basically a tennis facility plus tot lot, skateboard and dog park, and its walking trail for a peek at the creek that leads to Lake Meade is only 0.6 miles long.

Lone Star Lakes Park in Chuckatuck is beautiful and rustic and offers fishing, horseback and hiking trails, but it’s nowhere near downtown.

Suffolk has erected a plethora of spare-no-expense civic centers: courthouse, police stations, libraries, schools, social services, and an eye-popping city hall. Now, can we have a city park? Smithfield has one? Why can’t we?

We already own the perfect park site, complete with paved parking; established lawns for flower gardens, amphitheater, picnics, softball, basketball, tot lot, dog park and skateboarding; and woods for hiking and bicycling trails.

It’s the former site of our beloved Louise Obici Memorial Hospital, which was rebuilt on Godwin Boulevard. Suffolk bought the site several years ago and is now considering rezoning it to “mixed use” to allow apartments and commercial development.

There’s a prospective developer who wants to erect four-story apartment buildings at the back of the site. No doubt, there would be another strip mall across the front.  In fact, so much additional traffic is anticipated that it’s been proposed to widen the street, add a median, and install a traffic light.

Suffolk has enough cell phone-nails-coffee shop strip malls. Downtown storefronts and apartments sit empty.  What we don’t have enough of is green space for everyone to enjoy. How about a city park?

Suffolk’s Planning Commission meets at 2 p.m. on March 17 to decide the fate of what might be the last available piece of publicly owned Nansemond River waterfront.

Please come and tell them the time is right for Obici City Park!

Leslie Peterfeso has been a Suffolk resident since 1977. She recently retired from Sentara Healthcare Quality Management. Email her at