A river and an opportunity

Published 9:24 pm Thursday, February 26, 2015

As the Nansemond River winds through the length of Suffolk, its shores are lined mostly by golf courses, parks and some of Suffolk’s most desirable homes and neighborhoods.

Most communities blessed with waterfront intentionally develop the same way.

In downtown Suffolk, the Nansemond takes an S-shaped curve, creating two adjacent peninsulas. On one side, there is such a sought-after neighborhood with well-kept homes. The other peninsula developed into the commercial district of North Main Street.

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Some of Suffolk’s best riverfront property runs behind strip centers, fast food restaurants, auto service shops and other businesses that are important to our community, but hardly designed to highlight the views they have out their back doors.

It’s likely most of the business owners would prefer the lower taxes and insurance of a non-waterfront location if they could keep the same road visibility and traffic.

It’s easy to imagine how Suffolk developed this way. The course was set many years ago, when the riverfront was the center of transportation and commerce. Rivers in the 18th and 19th centuries were everything airports, railways and highways are today.

Recently residents have spotted one possible opportunity to take a different tack by converting the site of the old Louise Obici Memorial Hospital into a park.

But there are other plans for the land that has sat unused for years. A new apartment complex is in the works, and it could be an economic benefit to the city.

Opponents of the park like to note that Lake Meade Park is almost across the street. But different parks serve different purposes. Lake Meade has great tennis courts, a playground, a skate park and more. What it does not have, despite its name, is any reasonable access to Lake Meade or the Nansemond.

Getting to the water at Lake Meade Park requires a good bit of bushwhacking, even in winter. Worse, a rusty chain link fence topped with barbed wire tells any visitor that going anywhere near water is prohibited.

The river is much easier to see by those deciding whether to order original or extra crispy than those visiting Lake Meade Park.

The vision for the new park, as described by its supporters, is more scenic and landscaped. It would pay homage to the Obicis and the history of Suffolk, while offering a small oasis in our business district.

The concept of the park has captured the public’s attention. That may create an opportunity, but it also underlines a problem. It is just a concept, open to interpretation, and not a plan.

Those in favor of the park should gather the energies they have used to successfully capture the public’s attention and start developing a plan, preferably including input from a landscape architect and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Whatever the outcome, we should all be grateful to be in a place and time where we find ourselves surrounded by both a river and opportunity.