Plans to improve the city
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jun 10, 2014, 14:39
HOPEWELL — In the course of almost a year, the Economic Development Authority in Hopewell worked with community partners, businesses and compiled research, to draft a plan to aid in spurring development in the city and potentially growing the local economy.
The plan, which was completed at no cost to the residents of Hopewell, focuses on key areas in the city for development, such as the Interstate 295 interchange, the riverfront, downtown, and the gateways into the city. It also provided an overview of housing in the city, education, and the industry.
At the end of April, the EDA presented their plan to council, which was met with nods of approval and support. The plan was also presented to the public at a meeting June 2.
Debbie Randolph, chairman of the EDA, told council many, many hours were put into the plan. The EDA researched previous plans, plans that have been completed for areas in the city, such as the downtown, and even visited other communities.
“We went to a couple other communities that are similar in nature to Hopewell,” Randolph said. “In the fact that they have industry as a main component of their income ... and also have the riverfront and seeing what they are doing.”
Neal Barber, who worked with the EDA and has over 42 years of experience behind him in terms of economic development, said the plan presented was a reflection of the plans that had been researched.
Randolph also said the purpose of the plan was to continue the momentum that has been building since the competition of the Beacon Theatre and the Marina. She said the goal is to start with small projects that will require a large investment and work to the larger projects.
“So we can have some things that we can show not only to citizens here in Hopewell that we’re continuing to move forward but people outside that are watching,” Randolph said.
As Barber added, “success breeds success.” He said those smaller projects completed over a period of time will lead to larger successes down the road.
The plan focused on several areas in and around the city for development and strategic economic revitalization. Elliot Eliades, with the EDA, said the plan brings “to your attention what should the city do. ... It’s just that these are the projects I think you should look at taking priority.”
The plan focuses on the I-295 interchange along the Route 36 corridor in the city. Part of the plan calls for an improvement on the landscape, lighting and streetscaping along Route 36 from the corridor into downtown Hopewell.
“This will improve the image of the city for tourists, residents of other localities and potential developers,” as stated in the plan.
Another objective listed is to prepare a comprehensive commercial revitalization plan for the western Route 36 corridor.
The EDA has also suggested continuing to aggressively market the available commercial property in that area.
“The Appomattox and James Rivers are key assists of the City that are underutilized and underdeveloped,” the plan states.
The EDA recognized in their plan that many strategies have been drafted in years past for the riverfront, such as the downtown master plan, “B” Village plan, and the Appomattox Riverwalk and Trail System Plan.
The EDA’s drafted plan calls for the construction of a riverfront pedestrian and bike trail system, the set up of a river walk committee to help draft a river walk project plan, and sponsor a series of “on the water events” such as summer band series at the overlook site, fishing and boating tournaments.
The plan also suggests redeveloping and expanding the marina into a mixed-use complex. Another objective is to add a river cruise operator to continue to increase entertainment options in the city.
River safety, swimming, boating and kayaking instruction classes were also suggested. These classes could be held through the school system or through the Recreation and Parks Department.
“If Hopewell is to achieve a vision of prosperous waterfront community it needs to begin to actively encourage the development of new higher priced housing for workers in the City and region as well as redevelopment of some of the older neighborhoods that have concentrations of older, functionally obsolete housing stock,” the EDA’s plan states.
The discussion of the redevelopment of the housing in the city was perhaps the longest discussion among council. Though Randolph made it clear that the EDA cannot get involved with housing unless it is mixed-use development, she said housing is the core to economic development.
Barber told council that when the redevelopment of housing takes place in the future, there needs to be a wide array of housing stock, not just “moderate income housing.”
“While the housing authority may have a legitimate and vital role at the lower end of the price point, if you’re looking at mixed income housing development over a period of time then you might look to the private sector,” he said.
One of the listed objectives is to reduce the percentage of the rental housing stock in the city from 50 percent to 40 percent of the total housing stock by 2020 and further reduce that to 33 percent by 2030.
“What we have to look at is how we can impact the economy so that our median income goes up to a certain point or a little higher than we got today because then we can attract different retailers and businesses,” Randolph said. “And that’s not a bad thing. We want very affordable and also good housing for everybody that lives in Hopewell and I’m not sure that we’re providing really good housing for everybody that lives here.”
Another objective listed is to discourage commercial businesses locating in residential structure along the major Route 10 and Route 36 commercial corridors and in the same respect, encourage private sector development of vacant residential zoned land and the development of existing property for residential and mixed use purposes.
“That’s a big, big thing we’ve talked about in our plan not because we’re going to plan on changing it but because it does impact economic development so heavily,” Randolph said.
The plan also calls for revitalization of older housing stock and includes more home ownership opportunities. It also calls for the recruitment of successful developers and redevelopers who have assisted other Virginia localities with similar issues.
Though the plan covers a wide array of economic development in the city, there are targeted goals to be met sooner rather than later. The next step for the plan is to gain council’s approval. Once it is approved by council, which is set to be voted on in July, the city manager will work with the EDA on implementation of plan.
The plan also lists catalyst initiatives that call for work to be completed on some projects listed within the next few years.
“So they can see you’re doing something and hopefully working with our strategic plan and putting that together, because if you don’t finish something, people are going to notice,” Councilor Wayne Walton said during the EDA’s presentation. He told them to go after the “low hanging fruit” so projects can begin to get underway.
Randolph also added that the plan is meant to be flexible and can change with council’s priorities for the city as well as input from residents in the future. She also said the plan will continue to be a working plan for the city as well as becoming a large component in the comprehensive plan for Hopewell.
“I got excited about Hopewell again,” EDA member Linda Frink said at the meeting on Monday night. “And I have been here since I was 6 years old.”