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Council supports ‘Damiani Square’

Discussion ensues about city’s entire renaming policy

The Suffolk City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to have an ordinance created that would rename part of downtown Suffolk in honor of former Mayor Andy Damiani.

Damiani, who died in August at the age of 95, was not only a former mayor but also a World War II Army veteran, business leader, property owner and advocate for revitalization in the downtown area.

The area currently known as Character Corner would be renamed Damiani Square with recognition of Damiani on site. The Character Corner designation would be kept for the part of the area that includes a statue of Mr. Peanut.

The park-like environment at the corner of Main and Washington streets was established in 1991 by Planters Lifesavers Company in conjunction with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to recognize local businesses who exemplify true character through active and successful business-school partnerships, according to a staff report by Deputy City Manager Scott Mills on Wednesday.

“I had no idea the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in that initiative to do that to recognize business leaders,” Councilman Mike Duman said on Wednesday. “With that being said, I think it’s more appropriate to have that recognition since Mr. Damiani, as everybody well knows, was a businessman.”

The area also includes a memorial and flagpole erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Joe Bagley Post 2582. The memorial and flagpole would remain.

Duman said the move appears to adhere to city policy, which allows renaming an existing facility “in memory of an individual that has provided outstanding service to the nation, state or city as determined by City Council,” according to Mills’ report.

Later in the meeting, Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett suggested naming the Health and Human Services building after Suffolk native Dr. L.D. Britt, who is still living. That sparked a conversation on examining the city’s policy that prohibits naming facilities after people who are still alive.

Britt was the first African-American in the nation to hold an endowed chair of surgery, and the first African-American professor of surgery in Virginia. He received the nation’s highest teaching award in medicine, the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teaching Award, given by the Association of American Medical Colleges. He was the first faculty from Eastern Virginia Medical School to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine. He is the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery and the Henry Ford Professor of Surgery at EVMS.

Everyone on the council agreed that Britt’s career has been honorable and his reputation impeccable, but some were concerned about the “slippery slope” renaming a building after a person who is still living would allow.

“Once we open up Pandora’s box, it opens it up for everybody to suggest anybody anytime they want, whether they’re among the living or among the deceased,” Duman said. “Then we’d have to get into a discussion about the worthiness of each individual.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett agreed.

“I’m not so sure that changing the policy might be the ideal thing, but I’m willing to look at it,” he said. “I think we should have some real discussion about this before it ever gets on the table.”

Several on the council hoped a solution can be found that would honor those who are still living in some way.

“Hopefully we can come to something that’s honoring and doing the right thing,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.

The council voted to have a report, similar to that brought Wednesday for Damiani Square, on the policy and solutions.