‘Upscale’ wanted on Obici site

Published 9:20 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Citizens of Suffolk and surrounding areas want upscale shops, restaurants, shopping and entertainment on the Obici Place site, a survey confirmed.

Nearly 600 responses were received to the survey that ran for 30 days in June and July.

“We’re pleased to get that much information and interest,” said Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes, who will discuss the results with the Economic Development Authority, which owns the property, at its 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

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Most of the respondents were from the central Suffolk area, Hughes said, but many were from other parts of Suffolk and neighboring localities.

“It’s good to know kind of where the restaurant and retail population to our area are coming from,” Hughes said.

He said results of the survey will help gauge the interest level of what people want to see on the site, which is located at 1900 N. Main St. and is the site of the former Obici Hospital. Many requests for a particular business could be evidence to that business that they are wanted, Hughes added.

“We can point to the survey in showing that this might be a good option for them,” he said. “That’s all good information for us to go to the marketplace with.”

The survey asked questions such as what percentage of clothes shopping and eating out are done outside the city. Many respondents said they go outside the city to shop for clothes, especially, Hughes said.

“There’s a need to bring this type of retailer into the city versus going outside of Suffolk to do their shopping,” Hughes said.

A space for open-ended comments netted some interesting results. Many respondents requested entertainment venues, such as a movie theater, bowling alley, mini-golf or trampoline park.

Hughes said it may be difficult to fit a larger entertainment use onto the eight acres of developable land the site has after placing a 224-apartment complex on the back half of the site.

“It all comes down to the parking requirement, not necessarily from the code but more from the actual user,” he said. “You’ll frequently find there’s a large requirement for a significant amount of parking they want designated for their own use.”

Also frequently requested was higher-end grocery, such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Fresh Market and Harris Teeter.

Many requests also came in for a bulk warehouse store, such as Costco or Sam’s Club, as well as chain restaurants like Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse.

Chain retail such as PetSmart, Barnes and Noble and Old Navy popped up frequently. A home décor retailer was also frequently requested.

But many people requested locally owned businesses including coffee shops and restaurants, and pet-friendly destinations.

“No national chain restaurants, please,” one wrote. “There are already so many nasty national chain restaurants.”

Several people requested a “city center” style of development and pointed to examples in nearby cities, such as Hampton, as well as tourist destinations, such as Hilton Head, S.C., that they felt illustrated their point.

A lot of people chose to use the comments space to put what they don’t want, a list that included fast food, dollar stores, cellphone stores, mattress stores, nail and hair salons, gas stations, auto repair or auto parts stores, check cashing and payday loan businesses, pharmacies and tattoo parlors.

And plenty of people used their comments space to comment on the city’s plan for the site as a whole.

“Which part of ‘we prefer a park’ did the city not understand,” one wrote. “You ask for our input then go off on your merry way putting up more apartments that no one wants or needs.”

But quite a number of people used the space to advocate against a park, as well.

“I have heard the suggestions for a park, which seems ridiculous and outdated,” one person wrote. “There is a park just up the road. Why would we need another in close proximity?”

City Council decided in June that the EDA’s plan for the site — apartments in back and commercial space up front — would go forward.