City of Suffolk, Virginia

SuffolkVADate: February 20 – 25, 2011

Location: Suffolk, Virginia

Sponsors: City of Suffolk and the Tidewater Community College Real Estate Foundation (TCCREF)

Chair: Alex J. Rose

Subject Area: Economic Growth and Development

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The Panel’s Assignment

At the request of the city and the TCCREF, the Urban Land Institute was asked to provide recommendations on the economic development and redevelopment opportunities for the site. The scope of the panel’s work centered on the following areas of inquiry:

  • Examine and identify strategies and mix that provide the best near- and long-term development opportunities;
  • Recommend development strategies that provide maximum financial benefit to the current landowners;
  • Develop recommendations that consider the waterfront area and how it can be a unique asset that positively enhances development opportunities;
  • Examine and identify methods to mitigate the former ordnance depot sites to encourage development;
  • Recommend the top-five priority opportunities for the TCCREF site and the Suffolk EDA site, including recommended action plans with time frames for each site; and
  • Identify marketing strategies for the recommended development plan that will encourage interest from both local and national developers. Much about the future, particularly when measured over the next 20 to 30 years, is speculative at best.

However, from looking back at the last ten to 20 years and a review of projections, the panel quickly came to the conclusion that population and employment growth are likely certain to continue in the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The area’s physical and strategic proximity to the key sustainable economic drivers of Washington, D.C., military facilities, and one the East Coast’s largest port complexes leaves the panel with little doubt regarding the direction of the area’s growth curves. Matching demographics, the physical pattern of growth, and the land available to accommodate such growth suggests a host of land uses that could be successfully accommodated on this site. Many of these opportunities are already familiar to the area’s stakeholders; others will require some imagination and aggressiveness to help nurture, grow, and find a home in this area.

It is no secret that the past several years leave one asking if those projected opportunities will become reality and, if so, when. Although no one can be certain of the timing, as land use professionals, the panel members know that to capture and optimize those opportunities, careful and thoughtful planning and preparation is an essential and indispensable component of the process. “Waiting for someone to come knocking” and “build it and they will come” are generally not guiding principles for opportunity capture or responsible and sustainable physical development of a community.

The combination of current and near-term market conditions points to a Suffolk market with an extensive supply of land and improvements, well-positioned to rapidly capture opportunities that appear over the next five to seven years. That is good for the Suffolk market—but not so good for the specific site in the near term. However, the good news is that the panel found this to be an incomparable site, and the time and the resources exist to properly plan and prepare for linking those longer-term opportunities to the site.

Summary of Recommendations

Following an intense week of interviews, site tours, and discussion, the panel recognized significant opportunity for the city of Suffolk to steer redevelopment of the site.

The recommendations set forth here were formulated to create options for a mixed-use redevelopment program appropriate within the context of the city, the neighborhoods surrounding the region, and the existing business climate.

These recommendations do not leave the city with a site that is rigidly locked into a single vision and plan, incapable of responding to the typical dynamic forces of population and job growth when viewed over a 20- to 30-year horizon. Summarized below, these recommendations are described in more detail later in this report:

  • Brand the site. For the purposes of this project and this study, the ULI panel chose to refer to the TCCREF and EDA sites as “Confluence Point,” recognizing that it represents both a physical and a collaborative coming together of market forces, along with the community vision.
  • As market forces permit, create a large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment program that provides for a variety of land use alternatives. Ensure that each alternative includes a common development framework, albeit with an emphasis on different land uses.
  • Identify public realm improvements that give the location a particular and recognizable identity including a “community spine” that acts as the site’s central organizing feature, a promenade along the river shorelines with a Monitor/Merrimack feature, and community space interspersed throughout the development.
  • Prepare the EDA site so that it is “shovel-ready.”
  • Prepare an operating agreement that allows the sites to develop as if under one ownership, hire a development manager, and prepare a timeline.
  • Be patient while being persistent.

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