Political Pulse in Suffolk: City faces challenge amid building boom to remember, preserve rich heritage


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The sprawling city that once boasted being the peanut capital of the world, is rapidly evolving before our eyes.

This November, residents will cast their ballots with their eyes on a few crucial issues, such as encouraging economic revitalization and development, honoring the area’s rich history and protecting the environment.

Construction crews are commonplace in North Suffolk, where Amazon is building a multi-story robotics fulfillment center, a first for the state that will add an estimated 1,000 jobs.

Not far away, more development. Bridgeport is springing up with new housing options, and just up the street if you blink you might miss a new business opening up in Harbour View or along College Drive. 

“I really feel like the city is doing a great job of making Suffolk grow, so whatever they’re doing right now is working,” said Katy Tew, a Suffolk native who’s the new co-owner of High Tide Restaurant and Raw Bar downtown. “The city has been super supportive. They were really easy to work with. They’ve done a lot of different programs to I think better help businesses stay down here.”

She says there’s a lot of new energy and new vibes in the area long plagued by empty buildings. Tew says what they’re cooking up at her restaurant is further evidence things are turning around. And she’s happy to hear about more attractions on the way.

“It used to be nobody really hung out downtown and now you see families just walking around at nighttime, just everybody going out to eat,” Tew said. “We were really excited to hear about the Art District when we first came in. I think that‘s something they’re continuously working on to bring down here.”

One challenge in moving forward, making sure a rich heritage that propelled the city to this point isn’t forgotten along the way. A sentiment expressed by Tew and echoed by Mary Hill, president of Suffolk’s African American Historical Society.

“The Obicis and the Planters Peanuts,” Tew said. “We do oysters and a whole group of oyster boats was found last year. We have a lot of history people just don’t know about.”

“That’s how we made our living, oystering,” Hill said. “This house was built off of my dad working the river as a waterman. This entire village was established from that industry.”

Hill, a seventh-generation Suffolk resident, lives in Hobson Village. It’s yet another part of the city steeped in significance she wants to make sure is not only remembered but protected as it grows. 

When casting her ballot she says she’ll be choosing candidates focused on inclusiveness, transparency, and striving to create a way forward that keeps communities connected amid a building boom.

“Protecting the environment of the river,” Hill said. “Because of the development, there’s silt that is running off into the river smothering our oysters. They say you have to mix the old with the new. But the new is $300,000 or $400,000 homes that are totally out of our reach. Where is the vision for Hobson, Crittenden and Eclipse? Where is the vision or Chuckatuck and Oakland?”

Hill is also hoping city leaders will advocate for Sentara BelleHarbour to become a full 24-hour accredited hospital and immediately move forward with replacing the Kings Highway Bridge in the same location, which she says will reconnect their communities. She says take a tour and find out what the people want. That’s exactly what we did.

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