Improved transportation, internet access for Hampton Roads citizens and cooperation among city leaders were top of mind at the annual Town Hall with South Hampton Roads Mayors. The event was presented by Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series (ELS) at the Founders Inn and Spa on Wednesday, April 12.
The Q&A-style panel featured mayor of Suffolk, Linda Johnson; mayor of Chesapeake, Alan Krasnoff; mayor of Portsmouth, John Rowe; and mayor of Virginia Beach, Will Sessoms.
WTKR/WGNT television news anchor, Les Smith, moderated the panel and asked questions of each mayor submitted by ELS attendees prior to the event.
First up: innovation. Smith asked panelists what was new for each city, and what unique barriers stood in the way for their progress.
Sessoms spoke of a recent broadband initiative, which is bringing a broadband undersea fiber cable from Spain to a landing point in Virginia Beach that will significantly increase bandwidth capacity between Europe and the U.S. His biggest hindrance stems from environmental issues surrounding the initiative.
Krasnoff and Johnson both addressed providing under-served areas with internet access, and cited transportation issues as the area’s biggest hindrances.
Rowe, the area’s newest mayor who was sworn into office December 2016, named the city’s current zoning orders as its biggest hindrance to growth. He boasted, however, of a brand-new city council, and with it, a refreshed vision for his city and its residents.
“It’s a new day for the city of Portsmouth,” said Rowe. “And I have a team that’s working together really hard.”
As Portsmouth looks ahead with new leadership and a fresh perspective, Smith asked each panelist about their city’s future spanning over the next decade.
“The bottom line is that our city, our region, sell ourselves too short too often, because I believe this region can do just about anything it wanted,” said Sessoms.
In addition to broadband, Sessoms believes potential growth lies in “gainful employment opportunities” due to the area’s “huge assets.” He also pointed to bioscience as a primary focus area for Virginia Beach.
“The foundation has been set,” agreed Krasnoff. “If we’re deliberate and if we’re truly prudent in the way we make decisions…and use it correctly, we’re looking at wonderful opportunities for all of our citizens.”
Those opportunities come from working together in the name of the area’s 1.8 million residents. Smith asked about the inter-cooperation among the Hampton Roads leaders and what they were doing to foster the greatest good for the area.
“The region has a lot to be proud of,” said Sessoms. “And I do believe that the cooperation between our neighboring cities today is better than it’s ever been before.”
This comes by way of the area’s $5 billion of current and pending road projects; from expansions along the I-64 corridor, an expanded and redesigned interchange for I-64 and I-264, and an expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.
Rowe said the area’s “self-inflicted low self-esteem” plays into a perceived lack of cooperation.
“Sometimes cities do what they do in their own best interest, but we’ve come a long way in working together,” said Rowe, who expressed great improvements in the areas of homelessness, care for military veterans, job creation and public safety.
“We sell ourselves short,” agreed Johnson, who stated that for her, it’s all about “connectivity.”
“As a mayor, I look at all of the mayors in the region and I consider them my friends, my partners in what we do, because we’re all working to make Hampton Roads connect,” said Johnson. “Whether it’s about roads, transportation, broadband or public safety, it’s about working together for a better Hampton Roads.”