Friday, June 23, 2017

Local Voices: What Will It Take To Become A Major League Area?

At recent council meetings and in media releases there has been speculation about Norfolk/Hampton Roads becoming a “major league metropolitan area.”  Our political leaders and significant others have been pondering the question of what will it take to make Norfolk/Hampton Roads a “major league community,” especially for a sports franchise and/or a concert center, and all that it would mean for us as an economic investment and income provider. 

After recently failing to recruit an NBA franchise and other major league attractions, this quest for the best continues. Now there is “talk” of Norfolk spending millions to renovate the Scope, which was opened in 1971. At this time, some city leaders want to compete with Virginia Beach’s plans to build an 18,000-seat arena at the Oceanfront, which could open in 2019, or thereabouts. Presently the Scope can seat 10,276 for  basketball games and 13,600 for most concerts.   Some say that Norfolk is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to attracting a “major league sports franchise,” or anything else that is big-time.

Advocates say that Norfolk/Hampton Roads can support major league action and all that goes with it.  They point out that Norfolk/Hampton Roads has a combined population of 1.8 million or thereabouts. Critics say that the area’s population is not economically sufficient to support a major league endeavor at this time. They point out that Norfolk/Hampton Roads is at very best a very good triple-A setting and environment. And, there are other factors, circumstances and realities that weight heavily against us…at this time.

I mostly agree with the critics.  While it is definitely all right to strive for major league/big-time status, we still have significant factors, circumstances and realities that have to be addressed before we can attain these “desirable” goals. 

At the present time, all is not good on the home front. Simply put, we should acquire our “needs,” before we seek our “wants.” For example, some of our major hemorrhages are: continued loss of productive citizens, deteriorating neighborhoods, inadequate public housing, substandard schools, low per capita income, decreasing tax base, insufficient corporate investment, lack of economic diversification, inadequate regional cooperation, transportation and roadway deficiencies, questionable race relations, and the like. 

Substantive improvements must be attained in all of these areas, before Norfolk/Hampton Roads can be(come) a “major league metropolitan area” by definition and/or reality.  We have our work cut out for us, for this is what truly builds “major league” cities.  We must continue to improve upon our foundation and infrastructure.  Then, and only then, will we become a competitive and progressive community … too good for others to keep passing us by.

      In effect, like it or not, there is only one way to become a “major league metropolitan area,” and that is the old-fashioned way of earning it.  While Norfolk/Hampton Roads is slowly – but surely – getting there, we still have a long ways to go…a very long ways to go. Basically, we need to build our “big city metropolitan area,” from the inside-out,” not the “outside-in.” Once we resolve some of the ongoing challenges and vexing issues that lie before us, we will have a fighting chance of truly becoming a “big time/major league metropolitan area,” and much more.

After we overcome some of these significant stumbling blocks, all kinds of major league sports franchises and other big-time tickets would find such a place too good to pass up.  And, until that becomes a reality, the “impossible” will not become the “possible.” When it comes to important decisions and impactful endeavors like this, timing and circumstances should always play a major role.  

John L. Horton resides in Norfolk and is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide.

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