Newport News trying to inject a little fun into demolition of vacant Denbigh Kmart
Published by John on
A vacant Kmart in Denbigh has long been an eyesore — and sometimes an annoyance — to Newport News city employees and many of the people who walk and drive past the barren parking lot and structure each day.
Inside the massive store at 401 Oriana Road, crews have started the demolition process, according to city officials, and Mayor McKinley Price will take an excavator to the building’s exterior at a community event Feb. 1 — before then, people will be invited to tag and paint graffiti onto the building’s facade.
The event marks a first revitalization action emerging from the Denbigh-Warwick Area Plan, a long-range plan the City Council adopted that has ideas for revitalization of the Denbigh corridor that runs along Warwick Boulevard.
The city purchased the Kmart building and 13-acre site, which have been vacant since 2014, about a year ago, while gathering public input for the plan, which cites a “desperate plea” from residents to improve the site. The city also owns the neighboring 9 acres of former business space.
The city has not decided what will be done with the collective 22 acres. But during the development of the area plan, it showed concepts for a walkable town center with retail businesses and open gathering space for events and open markets. The city also is exploring where to locate public amenities such as a new Grissom Library, and new fire and police station, and the Kmart is one of the sites involved in those discussions.
In the meantime, officials have discussed how to turn the site from an eyesore into a resource until the city determines the future use. At City Council work sessions and a two-day retreat in November, the council, City Manager Cindy Rohlf and other city employees have batted around ideas for events in the parking lot that would get people in the habit of visiting the site rather than looking past it.
Florence Kingston, the city’s economic development director, said improvements have begun, such as picking up litter in the parking lot, repairing the light poles and installing new LEDs so the area had some visibility at night.
They batted around ideas such as food truck rodeos and concerts. One out-of-the-box idea came from Peter Kageyama, an author who helped the council with creative thinking at its retreat. He suggested putting in a big slingshot or catapult to launch fruit at the Kmart.
The event Feb. 1 draws from some of those ideas. It is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will include a “touch-a-truck” area with city vehicles, construction-themed inflatable games, chalk art activities, give-a-ways and a DJ. Attendees also can paint the exterior of the building. Attendance and parking are free, and food trucks also will be on-site.
Kingston said it was a new idea to have a celebration tied to demolishing a building. She said the event also serves to maintain some of the energy from the development of the area plan and help keep the city accountable so the plan doesn’t get set aside. The revitalization will take time, Kingston said, and the city wants the community to stay engaged.
She said the city hopes to host events such as food truck rodeos and car shows, and work with community groups to host those events.
The Kmart building is slated to be completely demolished by the end of April.
Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692, email@example.com