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Posted on: December 31, 2019

Progress Report for 2019

PROGRESS REPORT FOR 2019


To the Citizens of Suffolk:


As 2019 comes to a close and we share the excitement of entering a new decade, the members of the Suffolk City Council would like to provide our thanks for allowing us to continue to serve you and hope you and your family has had a Joyous Holiday Season.


It is also customary that we present our annual Progress Report, and as you’ll see, it has been another remarkable year for Suffolk as the City continues to strive towards excellence.    


If there’s one thing I’ve come  to  appreciate  over  the  years,  it’s  the  knowledge  that  inspiration and growth only come from  adversity  and  from  challenge,  from  stepping  away  from  what’s  comfortable  and  familiar,  and  stepping  out  into  the  unknown.  As a City,  we’ve also done just that, and we have a remarkable success story to  share as people and businesses alike continue to make the decision to come grow  with us!    


Our population numbers are growing according to the U.S. Census Bureau.   We’ve  recorded a steady population increase every year since 2012, and we’re the only  locality in Hampton Roads projected to grow ten percent or more in each decade between 2000  and  2040,  according  to  the  University  of  Virginia’s  Weldon  Cooper  Center for Public Service.  We continue to be one of Virginia’s faster-growing localities. 


When it comes to our financial success, we can proudly report that the City received it third AAA rating from Moody’s Investors Service late this fall, now joining Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s Rating Service in bestowing this coveted designation upon the City.   As a result, our sound and fiscally-responsible financial policies will certainly continue to benefit our citizens and allow us to maintain the high level of services you deserve and expect of your government.  Suffolk now joins Virginia Beach as being the only Hampton Roads cities to have achieved AAA status from all three rating agencies, a designation shared by only a handful of other Virginia cities. 


 We’ve taken  advantage  of  our  improved  credit  standing  and  historic  low  interest  rates  by  refunding  outstanding  debt  resulting  in  cost  savings  of  close  to  $240  million  dollars.  Further, staff  has  aggressively  pursued  non-capital  project  grants  and  secured  more  than  $2.78  million  dollars  in  grants  in  fiscal  year  2018  alone,  thus  alleviating  some  of  the  tax  burden  on  our  citizens.


In 2019, we continued to invest in our employees and fully funded the requested budget for Suffolk Public Schools.  In fact, local  operating  funds  for  public  education  has  increased  by  more  than  $10  million  dollars  in  the  last  six  years,  including  an  additional  $4  million  dollars  for  Fiscal  Year  2019.


We’ve  also  recently  invested  more  than  $60  million  dollars  to  building  two  new  schools  which  opened  this  fall:    the  Colonel Fred  Cherry  Middle  School  and  the  Florence  Bowser  Elementary  School.   


In recent  years I’ve  shared  with  you  how  the  healthcare  options  in  our  City  have  continued  to  blossom  and  flourish,  and  this  year  is  no  different.  Sentara   Belleharbour’s  growing  campus  in  North  Suffolk  includes  the  completion  of  their  $33.5  million  dollar  expansion.    Bon  Secours  will  be  building  a  new  $77 million dollar hospital  on  the  campus  of  Bon  Secours  Health  Center  at  Harbour  View,  making it Virginia’s first inpatient facility with a surgical focus.    Sentara  Obici  Hospital’s  expanded  campus  continues  a  legacy  of  providing  residents  of  Western  Tidewater  with  high-quality,  patient-centered  care.  It’s evident that excellent  medical  care  has  been  brought  closer  to  people  in  the  neighborhoods  where  they  live.


A city can only move forward when it has a strong foundation to build upon, and we know that public safety is our fundamental building block.  We can proudly state that we are not only fortunate to have the very best public safety professionals in the region, but they are also prepared with the latest equipment and technologies – all designed to keep our citizens safe. 


Public safety is more than just response times and crime stats – it’s also about engagement.  Nowhere is the commitment to the community of our public safety professionals more evident than in our National Night Out celebrations, or what we refer to as our “going away parties for crime”! While we realize we can’t place first in the nation every year, Suffolk continues to be one of the highest ranking cities in Virginia, and in 2019 was again ranked in the Top 5 in the nation in our population category, making this the 14th straight year we’ve achieved this honor due to the overwhelming participation of our citizens and businesses. Involved, active neighborhoods are essential to the quality of life that we enjoy. 


Here, hometown charm isn’t a cliché – it’s our way of life and something experienced and exhibited in Suffolk every day! That is especially true as it relates to our Historic Downtown and the ongoing renaissance of our commercial core.  We continue moving  ahead  with our  Downtown  Initiatives  Plan  to support  new  business  growth  and  to  provide  entertainment  options  including  concerts  and  community  gatherings  to  draw even more events  and  people Downtown.  Projects  currently  underway  include  the  review  and  update  of  Historic  District  design  guidelines,  Downtown  branding  to  include  wayfinding  and  parking  signage,  and  the  expansion  of  the  parking  lot  on Commerce Street.  Enhanced lighting and landscaping upgrades will also certainly add to the ambiance and atmosphere. 


We’re also continuing to make great strides in the design process for the Festival Events Venue and our new Central Library, to be known as Library Square, as the anchor of a new active public space on West Washington Street. This much anticipated public facility will allow citizens to access the tools and ideas they need to dream big and lead Suffolk into the future. Also included is a mixed-use residential historic rehabilitation which will stimulate new activity in the eastern half of Downtown to include the Phoenix Bank block.   


The energy of entrepreneurs is palpable Downtown, and if you haven’t joined us lately, come experience, see, and taste what so many are talking about.  The focus is a fusion of cultures, and here you can find it all!      


I proudly serve as the Chair of the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, and while the needs of the entire region are a top concern, I’m also extremely vocal about the needs of our City. I can’t remember when I’ve seen more orange cones and construction going on, as we know that in order to keep our economy moving, we’ve got to keep our people and our goods moving.


City staff  also continue  to  seek  out  opportunities  to  fund  infrastructure  needs.    As a result, the City has been successful in leveraging local dollars to obtain significant state and federal funding.  We were  also  awarded  $16.1  million  in  funding  from  VDOT for the Nansemond Parkway/Wilroy Road Overpass from the Commonwealth Railway project to provide a long term permanent solution to the ongoing traffic and  train conflict at this intersection.   


More and more people are choosing to call Suffolk “home”, and we’ve seen the largest percentage increase in home sales in the region, growing by 8.6 percent over the previous year.  We’re also ranked in the Top Ten when it comes to affordable housing in Virginia according to information recently shared by the media. 


Our recreational opportunities are also continuing  to  expand  and  develop  thanks  to  our  nationally  accredited  Parks  &  Recreation  Department.    In  the  not  too  distant  future  is  the  highly  anticipated  Bennett’s  Creek  Recreation  Center.    Plans  have  already  been  completed  for  the  renovation  of  the  former  U. S. Army Reserve Center the City obtained  via  a  land  exchange  at  that  location  which  will  serve  the  densely  populated  northern  urban/suburban  growth  area.


Our Lone Star Lakes Park, a true jewel in our City, will be enhanced with more trails, road improvements, and the incorporation of an interpretive meeting space.  A water access study as part of the Parks & Rec Master Plan is currently underway to explore ways we can provide our citizens with even more opportunities to enjoy our waterways, including multiple sites on the Nansemond as well as the Blackwater River.


We opened our first Inclusive Playground this fall at Lake Meade Park near Downtown which offers an inclusive experience for people with disabilities, their families, and friends.    Another such playground is in the works for the northern end of our City


In Suffolk, when it comes to Economic Development, we’ve cultivated  an  environment  that  is  ideal  for  growing  a  thriving  business!      Our  continued  success  is  rooted  in  carefully  planned  strategic  growth  and  investment  that  helps  us  maintain  a  strong  financial  standard  and  sound  foundation  on  behalf  of  our  citizens.  More exciting announcements are on the horizon!


Realizing  opportunity  is  the  name  of  the  game  in  Economic  Development,  I’m  pleased  to  see  an  opportunity  realized  at  Obici  Place.  The  site  that  sat  vacant  for  a  decade  is  now  two-thirds  complete  in  four  short  years.    This  development  presented  an  opportunity  to  bring  new  to  market  residential  and  retail  options  to  Central  Suffolk.   Additionally, it has presented an opportunity to bring a use that has been of interest in the area for as long as I can remember. Our Economic  Development  Department and  the  Economic Development Authority are finalizing  negotiations with Cinema Café for one of their amazing “dinner and  a  movie”  concept  theaters at Obici Place.  


The exciting work also continues at The Point at Harbour View.  We first shared with you last year preliminary news about this 55-acre mixed-use development off of Interstate 664 that the Suffolk Economic Development Authority is working on together with Gee’s Partners.  This  site  also  serves  as  the  gateway  to  the  amazing  300-acre  former  Tidewater Community College  site  that  sits  on  the  James  River.    The  TCC  Real  Estate  Foundation  is  making  great  strides  as  they  continue  to  prepare  this extraordinary, one-of-a-kind opportunity for development, and we are a partner in  this initiative.  The Suffolk City Council previously approved funding for the engineering of the 1.3 miles of shoreline in order to protect this irreplaceable asset from erosion as we plan for a future public space that will span the length of the entire waterfront.   


As the Mayor of Suffolk, I have the humbling opportunity to see and experience the many facets and interworking of my community and the people that make it all possible.  I see the challenges, the struggles, the opportunities and the celebrations.    And no matter the high or the low, I’m always left with the impression of the incredible human spirit that exists in our City.  We all get the same 365 days every year.  The only difference is what we do with them.    


In closing, my fellow Council members and I hope that this New Year brings many opportunities your way to explore every joy of life and turn all your dreams into reality, and all your efforts into great achievements.  Happy New Year 2020! 


Mayor Linda T. Johnson

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Cypress Borough

Council Member Curtis R. Milteer, Sr., Whaleyville Borough

Council Member Donald Goldberg, Suffolk Borough

Council Member Tim Johnson, Holy Neck Borough

Council Member Michael D. Duman, Chuckatuck Borough

Council Member Roger W. Fawcett, Sleepy Hole Borough

Council Member Lue R. Ward, Jr., Nansemond Borough


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