The city of Norfolk has received a $10 million grant to help create what is being called the St. Paul’s Blue Greenway. The 22-acre project will provide a variety of benefits, including recreation, open space, flood resilience, and even the uncovering of a previously filled-in creek.
The St. Paul’s Blue Greenway is part of an even larger project called the St. Paul’s Transformation Project, which aims to replace aging public housing built on fill with modern affordable housing adjacent to the Blue Greenway.
Both projects are located in the Tidewater Gardens neighborhood, which is tucked between Tidewater Drive and downtown Norfolk. According to the City of Norfolk, the area has the highest concentration of poverty in the city. The neighborhood originally consisted of 618 apartments built in the 1950s as public housing. It is close to downtown Norfolk, but nevertheless isolated from the city in many ways. Because the neighborhood was built on fill, it is subject to flooding. The neighborhood was in dire need of a makeover.
According to Dr. Susan Perry, Director of Norfolk’s Department of Housing and Community Development, “The site of St. Paul’s Blue/Greenway was historically a waterway connected to the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River formed through tidal action and a natural creek later named Newton’s Creek. As Norfolk continued to grow and urbanize, the area was progressively filled in; surface drainage was routed into an underground storm drain. The filled waterway and wetlands is prone to flooding, and it has unstable, subsiding, organic soils coupled with groundwater challenges.”
Dr. Perry described the planned open space as a “stormwater park.” It will provide both flood mitigation and recreation—a win-win. There will be a recreational meadow designed to flood during periods of high water. Wetlands will be restored. Water in the neighborhood will drain more readily into the uncovered creek.
The park will not just reduce flooding. It will provide a bounty of recreational activities for nearby residents: playgrounds, picnic venues, a large gathering space, community center, splash pad, and pathways around the park. There will be access to the restored creek with kayak rentals. Visitors can stay fit at the 10-station fitness area. Trails will connect the park to downtown Norfolk and the Elizabeth River Trail. For those who are interested in history, the trails will be marked with interpretive signs explaining the history of the area including the nearby monument to Martin Luther King Jr. The trails will be lighted for nighttime use.
Most of the original apartments have been demolished. They will be replaced by a combination of affordable housing and retail/commercial space built adjacent to the park. There will be 714 new apartments. Residents of the former Tidewater Gardens community retain the right to live at the new St. Paul’s Transformation Project neighborhood.
Norfolk reports that the plans for the project are 65 percent complete. The plans should be finished in the spring of 2024, with construction starting in the summer of 2024.
Regarding the term Blue Greenway, Norfolk Communications Lead Chris Jones said the term is “used to signify the intertwining of water (blue) and the green spaces.” The term has been used by other localities before it was adopted by Norfolk.
Several consultants have helped the city plan this innovative project. These include Moffat & Nichol, Stromburg/Garrigan Associates (SGA), and Toole Recreational Planning Consultants. The park will be administered by a variety of City departments, especially Parks and Recreation and Public Works Stormwater. SGA has a detailed overview of the project here.