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Branding team hears ideas for downtown

At the first of two public meetings Tuesday on developing a brand identity for downtown Suffolk, a small group of city residents at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum shared ideas on branding, but also on ideas to help downtown.

Dianna Rogers, director of new business for BrandFirst Creative Agency, a branding and graphic design firm out of New Jersey that was selected to develop a brand for downtown Suffolk as part of the Downtown Suffolk Master Plan, is part of a group from the firm who has been spending time in the city and region this week as part of those efforts.

Rogers said the firm held focus groups earlier Tuesday with downtown business owners, and was planning on more Wednesday while also visiting Smithfield and Portsmouth to learn about what those areas think of when they think of downtown Suffolk.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the history of the town, the historic aspect,” Rogers said, “but also wanting to push more into a more modern era. I would say eclectic has come up a bunch of times.”

She said, like at Tuesday’s meeting, which was billed as an informal drop-in to share ideas, she has also heard a few complaints about downtown. Her firm, however, is focused on highlighting Suffolk’s positive traits in the branding it will create.

“Obviously, (we’ve heard) a lot of the same complaints, too, about parking and possibly some safety issues, but what we’re really trying to do is focus more on the positive and the aspirational,” Rogers said. “We’ve also heard a lot of friendly, inviting. The town itself has a very warm kind of atmosphere. Things like that are starting to come across.”

Miles Warren, in attendance at the meeting, said people are more inclined to spend their money in northern Suffolk or places like Smithfield rather than in downtown Suffolk.

“Now, I would like people to say, ‘I would like this place to have its own identity,’” Warren said, “but I would like people to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to downtown Suffolk’ like they say, ‘Let’s go to Smithfield.’”

Daequan Boone, who owns Kicks Laundry, a new downtown business, said the city has more of an arts culture with a blend of old and new.

“I would like to see it as mostly historic, but modern at the same time,” Boone said.

Rogers said after the meetings in Suffolk are complete, the agency will spend the next few weeks taking the insights they got while in the city and distill them into a few main themes, putting together its findings and rationale behind its recommendations for the branding visuals. At that point, it will also put together a brand position based on its research and outline the attributes that it will use in the visualization phase of its branding.

She said the agency will come back to the city and present its findings, including some of the brand positions, and also collaborate with city staff on where to move forward from there. Logo and tagline development will follow. The goal, she said, is to find an identity that is “unique and true” to downtown.

Rogers expects the entire process to take three to four months.

A second public meeting will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. this Wednesday at Nansemond Brewing Station, 212 E. Washington St. The public is invited to come by at any time during those hours to share thoughts on the branding of downtown.

For more information regarding the City of Suffolk Downtown Master Plan, visit  www.downtownsuffolk.org or www.suffolkva.us.