Now is your chance

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2017

One thing is clear about downtown Suffolk: It’s not what it could be.

One group of local citizens has been pressing for city officials to work toward getting a college — perhaps Paul D. Camp Community College or even a for-profit educational institution — to build a campus in the West Washington Street corridor.

Others see opportunities for an arts district or an area of retail and commercial spaces with public plazas, walkways and parking areas that actually encourage folks to walk around and sample shops and restaurants. Some see the potential for a combination of some or all of these ideas.

Email newsletter signup

What’s needed most is a sense from the people who live in and love Suffolk about what they would like to see. And that’s just what officials hope to accomplish during a set of design workshops set for later this month as part of the Downtown Initiatives Plan being worked up by Benchmark Planning, a consulting company that has been hired by the city to help develop the second iteration of the plan.

The first version, completed in 1998, had an important set of results that thousands of visitors enjoy each year. Both the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts and the Suffolk Visitors Center were identified during similar meetings at that time as priorities. The former had been the home of Suffolk High School before it lay abandoned and empty for many years. The latter had once served as Nansemond County Courthouse. Both have now found new life, and both are facilities that contribute much to the essence of what makes downtown Suffolk unique.

Similarly, the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center, located at the corner of North Main Street and Constance Road, was built as a result of those meetings during the late ‘90s, and that facility has proved to be a popular place for conferences, meetings, banquets and the like. Constant’s Wharf Park has become a favorite place for city activities like the Fourth of July fireworks, TGIF and the Rotary Club of Suffolk’s Nosh on the Nansemond, the Boys and Girls Club’s annual oyster roast and other such events.

None of these improvements to the downtown area would have been possible without the support and interest of the people of Suffolk, and their involvement will be just as important this time around, when officials expect to concentrate their efforts on the commercial area along North Main Street and Washington Street. Those corridors are desperately important to the economic vitality of downtown Suffolk, and they have floundered for far too long.

Sessions will be held June 26-29 at 120 N. Main St. An opening presentation will be held at 7 p.m. June 26. The remainder of the schedule will include afternoon drop-in times June 27, 28 and 29, from 1 to 5 p.m.; design pin-up sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. June 27 and 28; and a closing session from 6 to 8 p.m. June 29.

Would you like to have a say in the planning for downtown Suffolk? Now is your chance.