Wise restraint needed downtown

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2016

There are those who believe the future of downtown Suffolk hinges on bringing a community college — presumably Paul D. Camp Community College — to Suffolk’s core business area. Many of those who believe in that college-campus future are active in a new organization calling itself “Friends of Suffolk,” which will hold its second meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn at 100 E. Constance Road.

It’s hardly a settled matter that establishment of a college campus would be the solution to a stagnant business climate in the historic part of Suffolk, and there are those who remain skeptical about not just whether it would work, but whether the idea would be enticing to PDCCC or any other potential suitor.

There are plenty of questions to be answered, and there’s plenty of room to wonder why support for the concept hasn’t been much broader than the handful of developers and investors who have financial interests in the particular areas around the existing library that are currently being pitched as potential locations for such a campus.

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What sort of economic impact do Tidewater Community College’s campuses have in the communities where they stand? What should be made of the fact that TCC’s latest campus — the one in Portsmouth — is located outside of that city’s downtown area? How has Paul D. Camp’s Franklin campus affected College Drive development there? Is there a difference between the impact of a community college and that of a career college or technical school or even a four-year college, and should the city consider any other kind of educational institution besides a community college? What is the future of Paul D. Camp, anyway? What would Suffolk have to give up in order to accommodate a downtown college campus of any type?

Questions and more questions. And they’re questions of such a serious nature that the very question of whom to hire to help find the answers is fraught with all sorts of political and ethical baggage.

It’s admirable that the Friends of Suffolk has opened the dialog on such an important matter. But the organization, constituting as it does such a concentration of people who stand to personally gain from the answers to the questions at hand, cannot in the end be the one that sets the framework for this debate.

In the end, this matter must rise to the level of City Council, and that body must be the one that decides to hire consultants, outlines the project under consideration and then accepts or rejects the consultants’ recommendations on the matter.

It’s eminently understandable and sensible that downtown business owners and investors would like to have a say in what’s happening downtown. But in a very real sense, the downtown area belongs to all of Suffolk, notwithstanding the deeds held by various individuals and corporate entities, and Suffolk must make decisions on it as a whole.

As the Friends of Suffolk organization begins to reach a consensus on its hopes for the downtown area, City Council should take notice and do its due diligence regarding the recommendations. But council cannot allow itself to be forced into any action that would not be the best thing for the city as a whole. The Friends of Suffolk will urge City Council to act with dispatch. Many in Suffolk would prefer they act with wise restraint.