Officials preview ideas for choice neighborhood transformation, remind that residents need to remain at the center

Upcoming initiatives in Newport News’ Marshall-Ridley neighborhood transformation efforts may include a seafood market, commercial kitchen and funds to help homeowners spruce up their properties to go along with new apartments and replacement of Ridley Circle apartments.

As officials reviewed building plans and progress, they expressed several times they needed to focus on the residents of the neighborhood.

The City Council held a work session Sept. 15 to discuss the Choice Neighborhood Initiative.

Ricky Burgess, a city councilman in Pittsburgh, advised the Newport News council to remember “(this) process is not primarily about housing — this is about transforming families and helping families so they have a greater chance at success.” Along with housing, Burgess, who helped lead choice neighborhood transformation efforts in Pittsburgh, said new construction there involved community and resource centers, access to transportation and a new charter school.

The council agreed that the focus is not just on transforming the physical community, but the lives of the people there.

“We need total commitment to make this a reality,” Mayor McKinley Price said. He said the city needed to commit through its actions and its budget so that five years from now, they aren’t looking at a new neighborhood with the same issues that have lingered for decades. That would be a waste of time and money, he said.

The Marshall-Ridley Choice Neighborhood encompasses the Ridley Place and Marshall Courts public housing and much of the surrounding neighborhood. The area has higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the rest of the city.

The Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority is relocating residents from Ridley Place in preparation of the apartments being torn down and eventually replaced. She said 150 households have vouchers and more than 100 have moved or have new housing in place. The neighborhood has about 250 units.

Kevin Otey, chief operating officer of Hampton Roads Community Action Program, said about 300 residents are enrolled in case management with HRCAP; about 70 are not. His goal is for every resident to have a case manager by the end of November. “We need to dive in and get to know everything about these residents to provide wrap-around case management and access to services,” he said.

He said the organization has distributed tablets, hotspots and food to residents during the pandemic. HRCAP is also developing an app and website for choice neighborhood residents to help them stay informed and communicate with each other.

Karen Wilds, director of the redevelopment and housing authority, said the first major project in the transformation, a pair of apartment buildings on vacant Jefferson Avenue land, will be under construction starting nearthe end of this year.

Florence Kingston, the city’s director of development, highlighted five ideas for energizing the neighborhood: signage and gateways to mark important parts of the neighborhood, a seafood market and industrial kitchen in the seafood industrial park, a trail network, funds to help residents make exterior improvements to their property and rehabbing buildings for future commercial use.

The estimated cost of those projects is just over $8 million and may be split between choice neighborhood funds and city dollars. Each would be carried out over multiple years.

Kingston also highlighted a property at the far south of the city that once contained the Chase Bag factory. Crews are clearing the space, and Kingston said the city plans to engage residents as it determines the future use. City Manager City Rohlf highlighted the view and location and said it could be a great amenity for the community.

Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692, [email protected]

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