Councilwoman Whibley suggests skateboard park for Wards Corner area

January 9, 2008

Yesterday, as Norfolk City Council rejected the idea for a skateboard park in downtown near Harbor Park, Councilwoman Whibley recommended the park for a troubled area of Wards Corner. The Pilot Online quotes Theresa Whibley as saying,

“Why not build one at Wards Corner?

“We’re looking for a way to clear some of that area out. It’s a great central location,” she said. “They’re looking for a rec center out there, and we don’t have the money for one. So we could start with this.”

I don’t ever remember the Wards Corner Partnership asking for a rec center in Denby Park, but a skate park could be a wonderful addition to the Comprehensive plan that is already on the table. The Wards Corner Partnership still demands that the Texas Streets be redeveloped as planned for in the Comprehensive Plan. A reminder of what the Plan calls for:

[The housing units in the Texas Streets] have been built too close together, without appropriate provision of open space, and without amenities. The maze-like character of the resulting development, its proximity to highly-traveled Little Creek Road and to Interstate – 64 make it unfortunately suitable for drug dealing and for serving as a base for other criminal activity. The Norfolk police report that the situation in these buildings is getting worse. They recommend major change: the acquisition and demolition of these buildings, before the situation has even more adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.

… we suggest a mixed use development, making use of the Uptown Norfolk concept, as described in the retail market analysis.This development would consist of a 200 room hotel and associated function rooms, restaurant and parking deck, at the most prominent location: the corner of Little Creek Road and Fort Worth Avenue. The room tower of the hotel would be visible from the Interstate, and would serve both the Uptown District and the Naval Base, which is only a short distance to the west on Little Creek Road. Norfolk’s Economic Development Department reports substantial developer interest in identifying a hotel site in the general Uptown area.

We show Fort Worth Avenue being widened to 100 feet, so that it can serve as the main street for local traffic within the new development. Little Creek Road provides access, but cars make turns into individual businesses from Fort Worth.

… we show 125,000 square feet of medium-box retail, as recommended by the economic analysis, plus 25,000 square feet of other stores, including a destination restaurant at the most prominent entrance location. Our finding is that this amount of potential retail development is feasible for the Uptown District now, even before the construction of the Wal-Mart.

The combination of the hotel, which provides a focus of activity at night, and the active retail and restaurant uses, should prevent this area from ever again becoming a focus of unlawful activity, and its excellent retail location will be put to a better use than drug dealing.

If at all possible, we recommend that the City work with the current owners of these properties to create a development corporation that will represent these owners in proportion to their land holdings. This proposal offers these owners a way out of an increasingly untenable situation.

In a second phase of development, the at-grade parking lots are replaced by 200 market-rate apartments, additional retail and some 40 town houses, making it a true mixed-use, 24-hour community. The apartments are 5-story elevator buildings, organized around a private courtyard, with their own secured garage, swimming pool and other amenities. They have restaurants and other retail on the portion of their ground floor facing Fort Worth Avenue. Buildings like this have worked well in other uptown districts, including Uptown Dallas. The parking lot to the south is replaced with individual town houses, with alley access to their own
garages. Houses and apartments something like this can be found in Norfolk’s West Freemason Street district downtown. While there is no waterfront nearby, this location has excellent access to the entire region, and could be a desirable residential address if a new environment is created as shown.

The Plan calls for the total redevelopment of the Texas Streets to a desirable living location that would include a large hotel, restaurants, and apartments in a mixed use setting. If Councilwoman Whibley would like to add a skate park or park to the plan, that is welcomed. But there is no reason not to move forward with purchasing land and redeveloping the Texas Streets.


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