Project could include Obici monument

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Economic Development Authority could consider placing a monument to Amedeo and Louise Obici at its North Main Street site in response to citizens who are petitioning for a park, Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said Wednesday.

“It will be a nice amenity,” Hughes said during the EDA’s monthly meeting. His proposal would have the monument and surrounding green space take up about 13,000 square feet near the entrance to the site, he added.

He said the idea is in direct response to a citizen movement that has gathered about 1,800 signatures on paper and online petitions so far.

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The petitioners want to see a park at the 27-acre site at 1900 N. Main St., the former site of Louise Obici Memorial Hospital. Amedeo Obici, an Italian immigrant and founder of Planters Peanuts, had the hospital built in honor of his wife.

But the city wants to see a combination of residential and commercial development on the site and already has entered into a contract to sell the back half of the site for what Hughes on Wednesday called a “high-end” apartment complex.

The city has owned the site since about 2005, and it has languished for years during many false starts at development. The Economic Development Authority now owns the site and hopes to have it rezoned to a mixed-use development.

The Planning Commission will consider the Obici site project at its April 21 meeting, Hughes said.

In response to the calls for a park and waterfront recreation, Hughes said the city hopes to acquire a site on the Nansemond River directly across from the Hilton Garden Inn, between the river and Wendy’s. The city has been negotiating with the owner for several years, Hughes said, but has been unable to come to favorable terms. The owner sees potential for commercial development and is asking a price the city isn’t willing to pay, Hughes said.

“I couldn’t tell you this is going to happen anytime soon,” Hughes said, noting that several other things — including a solution to flooding the area experiences occasionally — would have to come together even if the city did own the land.

But he said he envisioned walking trails, paddle sports, a picnic area and more on the 20-plus-acre site.

“We’ve heard the cries for park space on North Main Street,” Hughes said. “We’re having very fruitful conversation.”

The hope for public green space farther south on North Main Street goes along with a concept the city has had in mind for several years, Hughes added. It includes redevelopment of many of the retail components of the stretch of land between Constance Road and the Obici site, in the hopes of turning them into public space, residential uses and entertainment venues.

But that plan partially depends on solving the flooding issue at the area known as Kimberly, which is not currently a funding priority in the capital improvements plan, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said during Wednesday’s meeting.