Editorial – Port 460 puts city in a mood
Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2022
It speaks to the collective funk of Suffolk’s citizenry that the recent announcement by Lowe’s Companies Inc. of plans to build a distribution center here and create 100 jobs was met not by jubilation, as it might once have been, but by a common sentiment:
The Suffolk City Council, an elected body that bears responsibility for the mood of the citizens it serves, has some work to do after its fateful, less-than-unanimous decision to bless a mammoth warehouse complex smack dab in the middle of town.
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The malaise started the night of the vote, when a room full of energetic, involved citizens filed out of City Hall with their heads hung in dejection. When the room was empty and only the TV cameras were rolling, the atmosphere remained funereal as the council members who approved the controversial project explained their votes in deflated, almost apologetic tones. If the project is all that city officials cracked it up to be, shouldn’t its elected backers have been ecstatic?
Now comes news of litigation by citizens to try to stop the Port 460 project, ensuring many more months, if not years, of tension between the electorate and those they trusted to represent them. We don’t blame the plaintiffs, but we’re sad to see a proud, thriving city dragged down by the weight of a controversy that was completely unnecessary and avoidable.
The City Council has a chance, perhaps even an obligation, to lift the spirits of a downtrodden citizenry. Here’s what we’d suggest:
- Host a series of town hall meetings and ask citizens what kind of economy they want. Every council member should attend and simply listen. Let the people talk.
- Take the will of the citizenry and give city staff, especially those in economic development, a deadline for a plan for a job recruitment and retention strategy that is consistent with what residents envision for Suffolk.
- Place at least a 12-month moratorium on new warehouses outside the city’s existing logistical parks. Warehouses must become the lowest priority in Suffolk’s plan for economic vitality.
For the record, we’re pleased that Lowe’s is investing in Suffolk. The new facility’s location in the Virginia Port Logistics Park is appropriate and, unlike Port 460, won’t make traffic congestion noticeably worse.
A decade ago, we’d have been much more excited about the Lowe’s announcement. Now, our expectations are raised. Suffolk must quickly begin thinking bigger than warehouses. Citizens rightfully expect more for a city with such vast potential.