Second chance for a downtown park

Published 8:59 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2015

By John Carr

The move to turn the former Obici property into a park was well under way when residents realized the large adjacent property is likely to be vacated by the Virginia Department of Transportation at some point. Although it never became the focal point, a few voices suggested both properties might be used to create an even greater park.

With nothing now standing in the way of the Obici parcel’s apartment development, park advocates might direct their energy and momentum to the VDOT property.

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Like the Obici property, the VDOT property backs up to the Nansemond River. In fact, most commercial property along North Main Street backs up to the Nansemond, on both sides of the street. The curve of the Nansemond has created something unique that Suffolk has been unable to exploit, waterfront property on both sides of Main Street.

Residents have made it clear: They want the river back, or at least a small piece of it, for recreational use.

It is not known what it would take to turn the semi-industrial location into a park, or if it is economically feasible to do so. From a bird’s eye view, it appears to be quite a challenge. Some will scoff at the idea and consider it farfetched. They might be right, but perhaps we should find out from experts.

It is unfortunate the Obici park idea didn’t catch fire until the city had secured a viable project for the property. Council held off as long as it could and had ample information on which to base its decision, but a full-blown independent study and plan could not be done.

A professional, independent study with estimates of the costs, economic benefits and possible land use for a park on the Obici site could not be completed if the developer was to make a June 15 contract deadline.

Objections to using the Obici property as a park will still apply to the VDOT property. It will be expensive to build and maintain. It will require sacrificing or delaying other projects. River access could be limited by the marsh. It could take years just to get it started.

While all efforts to pursue outside financial support will be attempted, most of the burden will likely be on local taxpayers.

Still, the Nansemond River is tied to Suffolk’s history. Many think we should be able to accommodate economic growth, while saving a bit of the historic riverfront from more parking lots, loading docks and dumpsters.

A riverfront city park could be a very special place. Suffolk would not be the first community to pull off the trick of using natural resources to improve quality of life and attract economic growth.

Those interested in a Main Street park now have both momentum and time. Maybe they will look on the VDOT property the same way early arrivals looked at the Nansemond itself: It’s worth exploring.

John Carr is the publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. Email him at