State of the city ‘reel good’

Published 9:11 pm Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mayor Linda T. Johnson delivers the State of the City address on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson delivers the State of the City address on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center.

An announcement about six new retailers coming to Hampton Roads Crossing was the denouement to Mayor Linda T. Johnson’s State of the City address on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center.

The noon luncheon, the culmination of a five-part series in each of the South Hampton Roads cities sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, featured a sold-out crowd and a movie theme.

Joining the Kroger Marketplace-anchored shopping center in North Suffolk soon will be apparel and home fashion chain Ross Dress for Less, arts and crafts retailer Michael’s, small pet and pet product seller Petco, footwear merchant Designer Shoe Warehouse, salon and beauty store Ulta Beauty, and discount chain Five Below.

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“I couldn’t be more thrilled and supportive of this dynamic mix of tenants that has selected Suffolk to grow their business and look forward to seeing this retail destination moving forward,” Johnson said. “The Hampton Roads Crossing has proven to be a strong economic engine and will grow to be an even greater community gathering place.”

The city’s economic and financial health was a motif spread throughout the mayor’s speech, from touting the city’s AAA bond rating — which the mayor called “an achievement the equivalent of an Oscar” — to celebrating last month’s announcement by Target of a $50 million expansion at its Manning Bridge Road distribution center, bringing hundreds of new jobs.

With those new jobs — and preceding the new retailers — come new rooftops. Like a famous actress in a famous film once said, “There’s no place like home.”

Johnson extolled the many residential opportunities available in Suffolk, from working-class housing and traditional neighborhoods to loft apartments and last year’s Homearama at Waterfront at Parkside.

“I can tell you there is no place I would rather call home than Suffolk,” Johnson said. “As a Realtor, one of my proudest achievements is helping people find that place to call home, and more and more people today are choosing Suffolk.”

Once folks live here, they are looking for quality of life, Johnson said. Growing numbers of health care options, a decreasing crime rate, more than 1,900 acres of parks and more bring what people are looking for, the mayor said.

“A world-class locality invests in its communities, and few cities do that better than Suffolk,” she said. “We offer an exceptional quality of life with a side dish of Southern hospitality.”

But at the top of the list is education, Johnson said.

“We are working diligently toward achieving access to quality education for all of Suffolk’s students,” she said. “This council and this city recognize that our students are the future directors of our destiny, the ones that will take the shooting script and turn it into the feature.”

From the newly opened Pioneer Elementary School to the much-anticipated new elementary and middle school planned for North Suffolk, Johnson said the council is committed to giving the city’s teachers the facilities and resources they need to help students learn.

The military is an integral part of Suffolk’s economy, Johnson acknowledged. She emphasized the $876 million in contracts awarded to North Suffolk’s Joint Staff J7 facility for joint force development, training, experimentation and warfighting solutions, stretching to four years from now. The Joint Staff J7 employs more than 3,200 enlisted, civilian and contractors.

North Suffolk’s many private companies serving the military also play a critical role, she noted, including Reed Integration and its five-year, $23.5-million contract in support of NASA and ISHPI Information Technologies’ support of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Johnson also touched on the resignation of City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, who is leaving to take the same position with the city of Richmond.

“We all, businesses and citizens alike, share in this dynamic experience of what Suffolk is becoming, and we share a vision for an even brighter future,” Johnson said. “I’d like to thank those who help us achieve that vision, starting with what one could consider this storyline’s director, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn.”

Johnson also said she is confident that the “vast municipal government experience” of interim city manager Patrick Roberts will continue moving the city forward.

“As mayor, my fellow council members and I recognize that every day we are building our tomorrow,” she said. “We know that the plans, investments and decisions we make today will define what we look like in the next 25 years.”