Downtown: what’s in a name?

Published 10:16 pm Friday, June 16, 2017

If you ask 10 people to describe Suffolk’s downtown, you may well get 10 responses.

Newer residents may see downtown as the business district including much of Washington and Main streets, Godwin Boulevard and a good bit of Holland Road. It might also include nearby residential areas such as Riverview as well.

Some have also referred to this whole area as South Suffolk, but this is really only in relation to North Suffolk.

Email newsletter signup

One lifelong resident I spoke with describes downtown with a much narrower definition. Just a short stretch of Main Street from Constance to Washington, and a few blocks of Washington in each direction from Main Street.

Others refer to this same area as the historic district rather than downtown. That area does encompass many of Suffolk’s most historic buildings, so the term fits pretty well.

In a way, it is a good problem. The blurry definition is a sign of the growth Suffolk has enjoyed. Still, it would be nice to have a consensus on what might be considered downtown. This is especially true as the next phase of the downtown revitalization gets geared up. Ideally, it should be intuitive and not really need explaining to a visitor.

For those working on the downtown project, determining what is downtown may be second only to parking as huge rabbit hole to avoid.

With regards to parking, the solution is simple. We just need to figure out how to get four or five cars into the same storefront spot at the same time. Scientists are working on it right now. Probably that Zuckerberg guy.

Compared to parking, getting a consensus on the definition of downtown is a lot less realistic.

A possible solution came from a Realtor friend and longtime resident. He described the area that includes Main and Washington streets, Godwin Boulevard, Holland Road and some of Whaleyville Boulevard as Central Suffolk.

We were looking at a map together and, sure enough, it was all smack in the center of Suffolk. He is a long-time resident, so this may be common, but I had not heard central being used instead of some amoeba-like definition such as downtown before. It was simple and dead-on accurate.

I have been using the phrase ever since. I now use the historic district to identify the area a few blocks in every direction of where Main Street and Washington Street meet.

There is little doubt that this is the clearest and most accurate of terms. There is just one problem. Using central Suffolk and, within it, the historic district leaves us missing an area designated as downtown altogether. I think it is safe to say that if consensus is the goal, dropping the term downtown altogether will achieve it. Everyone will be in agreement that they don’t like it one bit. So, back to square one.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What does is what we do with what we have. For this, the city’s new revitalization phase is moving forward and gathering enthusiasm as it goes. In a few days you will have the opportunity to find out more, share your thoughts, and watch as ideas develop.

A series of meetings will be held later this month by a consultant hired by the city to help develop the downtown plan. Participants can participate in the opening session on Monday, see and talk about ideas as they evolve and submit their own ideas.

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 is as follows:

Afternoon drop-in times:

  • June 26 — Opening session, 6 to 8 p.m.
  • June 27, 28 and 29 — 1 to 5 p.m.
  • June 27-28 — Design pin-up, 6 to 8 p.m.
  • June 29 — Closing session, 6 to 8 p.m.

For more information, call 514-4060, email, or visit or