City to update downtown plan

Published 6:51 pm Saturday, May 21, 2016

The city is preparing to embark on a review of its initiative plan for the downtown area, and many facets of the area — including a college campus advocated by a group of local business owners — are among the considerations.

The downtown initiative plan, along with initiative plans for other villages and neighborhoods, are components of the city’s 2035 comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan was updated last year, but the initiative plans were not updated as a part of that.

“That’s what we’re in the process of preparing to do,” said Robert Goumas, the city’s acting director of planning. “Similar to the need and the want for reviewing and modifying, if appropriate, the overall comprehensive plan, we have the same strategy, if you will, to review and update those initiative plans.

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Goumas said he believes the downtown plan has not been updated since it was initially developed in 1999.

“A number of initiatives in it have been completed,” he said. “We’re going to see what initiatives within the plan are still valid. It’s just the appropriate time to review the plan and see what initiatives have been completed and what new initiatives should be considered.”

Goumas said the initiative plans are used in a number of different decisions, such as land use and capital projects.

During a presentation in the April Planning Commission meeting, Goumas said the city will hire a consultant to help it formulate the new plan.

Among the considerations in developing the plan will be a college campus put forward by a group called Friends of Suffolk, which believes a campus in the core downtown would increase economic and educational opportunities for business owners and students alike.

“It’s certainly going to be worthy of the conversation,” Goumas said.

Ralph Nahra, a member of the Friends of Suffolk group, is pleased to know the city might consider the college campus in its plan.

“It would be a wonderful thing,” Nahra said. “I think it’s exciting that the city is considering it.”

He hopes the downtown initiative plan complements a feasibility study the community college system may be conducting on the proposal.

“As you have a growing city, you need a center of learning, and that center of learning should be downtown,” Nahra said. The Friends of Suffolk group believes the Hobbs Suffolk campus of Paul D. Camp Community College is too far away from downtown to attract students or to have a positive effect on downtown businesses.

Other considerations for the initiative plan would include a proposed central library, city hall and surrounding areas, and gateway corridor design and enhancements, according to the presentation at the April Planning Commission meeting.