From the ruins, festive progress

Published 4:44 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

As journalists, we try not to get emotionally involved in the subjects we write about. But you’ll have to forgive us for being a little excited about plans for Suffolk Festival Park. That one’s personal.

A surprise tornado that cut a path through downtown and Riverview in 2020 did a lot of damage, including to our longtime office on South Saratoga Street. Fortunately, it occurred late enough that all of our employees had gone home, but the storm tore through the front window, traveled vertically the length of the long rectangular building and blew out the back door.

Enough of a shell was left to accommodate upscale apartments that will soon be complete. Just up the road, more progress is coming: a first-rate outdoor park and event venue at Saratoga and West Washington, stretching to the former Brandon House furniture store.

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We were pleased to see the project take an important step forward Thursday when the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously approved a certificate of appropriateness. All signs point to City Council approval of a conditional use permit, the final regulatory hurdle for a venue city officials project could draw more than 100,000 additional people downtown yearly.

As reporter Jimmy LaRoue writes on today’s front page, that will be a big boost for downtown retailers, restaurants and service providers.

The city has already set aside $150,000 for the park in the current fiscal year through its capital improvements program. That’s a big statement of intent to get it done, even though an additional $550,000 will be needed in the next two years.

The hope is to have the park ready to host the 2023 TGIF summer concert series, one of Suffolk’s signature summer events. Festival Park could also be home to the Suffolk Farmers Market, which will benefit from more accessible, spacious digs.

Throw in plans for a new library further west on Washington Street and that part of downtown is set for major revitalization in the years ahead.

As a longtime occupant of the neighborhood, we couldn’t be happier.