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Newport News is an independent city, and Virginia’s 5th largest with a population around 181,000. It is at the southwestern end of the Virginia Peninsula, on the north shore of the James River, extending southeast from Skiffe’s Creek along many miles of River waterfront to the river’s mouth at Newport News Point, on the Hampton Roads harbor.
Sitting at a vital but shielded point on the James River, Newport News has stood vigil as mid-coast America’s entryway for 4 centuries. The proximity of the open sea bolstered by the world’s largest harbor, Newport News has seafaring at its very core as a city. The downtown portion of Newport News is still home to coal piers and harbor-related facilities, nestled alongside immaculate new development.
The city’s original downtown area, located on the James River waterfront, changed rapidly from a farm-trading town to a new city in the last quarter of the 19th century. Development of the railroad terminal, with its coal piers, and other harbor-related facilities, and the shipyard, all brought new jobs and workers to the area. Although fashionable housing and businesses developed in downtown, the increase in industry and the development of new suburbs both pushed and pulled retail and residential development to the west and north after World War II. Such suburban development was aided by national subsidization of highway construction and was part of a national trend to newer housing.
Newport News grew in population from the 1960s through the 1990s. The city began to explore New Urbanism as a way to develop areas in midtown. City Center at Oyster Point was developed out of a small portion of the Oyster Point Business Park. It opened in phases from 2003 through 2005. The city invested $82 million of public funding in the project. Closely following Oyster Point, Port Warwick opened as an urban residential community in the new midtown business district. Fifteen hundred people now reside in the Port Warwick area. It includes a 3-acre city square where festivals and events take place.
Despite city efforts at large-scale revitalization, by the beginning of the 21st century, the downtown area consisted largely of the coal export facilities, the shipyard, and municipal offices. Some smaller businesses and lower income housing border it.
The completion of Interstate 664 restored the downtown area to access and through traffic, which had been largely rerouted with the completion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in 1958, and discontinuance of the Newport News-Norfolk, ferry service at that time. The larger capacity Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and the rebuilt James River Bridge each restored some accessibility and through traffic to the downtown area.
The Oyster Point City Center, located near Port Warwick, has been touted as the new downtown, because of its new geographic centrality on the Virginia Peninsula, its proximity to the retail/business nucleus of the city, etc. Locally, it is often called simply “City Center”.Nearby, the Virginia Living Museum recently completed a $22.6 million expansion plan. Other New Urbanism projects in planning include “Asheton”, a mega-development at the north end of the city, bordering the city’s historic attractions of that area.
West of the traditional downtown area, another early portion of the city was developed as Huntington Heights, called the North End in recent times. Developed primarily between 1900 and 1935, North End features a wealth of architectural styles and eclectic, vernacular building designs. Extending along west to the James River Bridge approaches, it includes scenic views of the river. A well-preserved community, the North End is an historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
The city’s major industries are shipbuilding, military, and aerospace. Newport News Shipbuilding is owned by Huntington Ingalls Industries,and the large coal piers are supplied by railroad giant CSX Transportation, the modern Fortune 500 successor to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O). Miles of the waterfront can be seen by automobiles crossing the James River Bridge and Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, which is a portion of the circumferential Hampton Roads Beltway, linking the city with each of the other major cities of Hampton Roads via Interstate 664 and Interstate 64. Many U.S. defense industry suppliers are based in Newport News, and these and nearby military bases employ many residents, in addition to those working at the shipyard and in other harbor-related vocations.
Newport News Shipbuilding serves as the city’s largest employer with over 15,000 employees. Fort Eustis employs over 10,000, making it the second largest employer in the city. Newport News School System creates over 5,000 jobs and acts as the city’s third largest employer. Research and education play a role in the City’s economy. The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF) is housed in Newport News. TJNAF employs over 675 people and more than 2,000 scientists from around the world conduct research using the facility.
Newport News plays a role in the maritime industry. At the end of CSX railroad tracks lies the Newport News Marine Terminal. Covering 140 acres, the Terminal has heavy-lift cranes, warehouse capabilities, and container cranes.
The city can best be described first as large in land area. Second, Newport News is a diverse collection of jobs, from the hardy and highly skilled shipyard workers, to the armed forces and to scientists engaged in nuclear research. Third, the housing is from extremes. Homes range from inner city, to New Urban chic to traditional homes displaying an English-style architectural heritage.
Finally, if summed up, Newport News is a tradition-rich port town, set upon a course of becoming a new port city, one that is a doorway to future industries. And, it is succeeding.
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