Only half the battle

Published 9:32 pm Friday, January 8, 2016

For all the efforts that have gone into improving and upgrading the western side of downtown Suffolk, the area along the 100 block of North Main Street and the West Washington Street corridor really represents only half of what should be one of the city’s most important communities.

Suffolk officials and city business leaders have put much time and effort into improving and developing that part of the downtown core, with new loft apartments, street-level businesses and a sparkling new City Hall building seen as the linchpins of future success there.

But just across North Main Street, there is a different vibe, with dilapidated buildings, empty storefronts and overgrown parking lots all sitting within walking distance of the upgraded and beautified part of downtown.

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To be sure, there have been isolated efforts at improving the eastern side of the downtown business core. The East Point loft apartments project took an old building and renewed it, as have the renovations of buildings in the 100 block of West Washington.

The city’s Fairgrounds project was always intended as a catalyst for more private investment in the area. It had been hoped that construction of the Health and Human Services building, along with a scattering of single-family homes in that historic area, would jumpstart the redevelopment of that part of downtown Suffolk.

Unfortunately, progress there has been slow. Owing in part to problems uncovered prior to the start of construction in the Fairgrounds area, along with other problems discovered since its redevelopment began, the project has moved along much more slowly than had been expected, and it now bears little resemblance to the original plan.

But the Fairgrounds area remains a key to redevelopment of the eastern part of downtown Suffolk, and that redevelopment is itself a key to the hoped-for resurgence of the downtown area as a whole.

It’s time for Suffolk officials to begin a comprehensive review of their plans for the Fairgrounds and East Washington Street, one that includes retail, commercial and residential components and one that addresses matters such as traffic, public safety, parking and access — matters that impinge heavily on the future success of any development there.

Suffolk has put a lot of work into improving half of the downtown area. But without some big changes to the other half, their best efforts will come up short.