Small changes, big plans in the works for Messick Point

tbell@dailypress.com

Some small but potentially significant changes are coming to Messick Point over the next year.

A new beach, a second breakwater project and an "Aquatic Interpretive Center" are among the improvements that Poquoson's economic development and parks and recreation departments want to add over the next year. Their hope is that the improvements will entice more people to visit the point and spend more time — and money — in Poquoson.

Messick Point is one of Poquoson's most iconic areas, offering expansive views of the Back River, and the city has put a lot of effort into improving it for visitors and residents over the last decade and a half. The first series of improvements haven't had as much effect as the city would like.

The city added the small marina with rentable slips, improved the ramps and erosion issues and installed public restrooms, said Gretchen Gochenour, assistant director of parks and recreation. She said she remembers when the dock was tiny and could barely float.

The city rents those slips monthly for $100 for pleasure craft and $60 for workboats like the deadrises used by the watermen, said David Callis, Poquoson's director of economic development. But, he said, they haven't had a lot of interest from renters.

That's because Hurricane Isabel ripped apart the point's natural breakwaters and now the water gets choppy, making people feel uncomfortable about leaving their boats in the slips, Callis said. Most of the 26 slips are empty.

The city isn't giving up on the marina, and has installed two 160-foot breakwaters off the eastern shore of the point, Gochenour said. A $113,000 Aid to Ports Grant made that first breakwater project possible, and the city is in the process of applying for a grant to install another breakwater at an angle north of the first two.

The city is also installing a $125,000 beach between two sandy spaces on the southern part of the point facing Back Cove. The City Council included that project in its budget for fiscal year 2017, and City Manager Randy Wheeler said the beach will likely be finished before the end of the summer next year.

"By sometime next year, there's going to be a beach at Messick Point," Callis reiterated. He added that a community organization, the Poquoson Exchange Group, is paying for the installation of an "Aquatic Interpretive Center" between the public restrooms and the Poquoson Yacht Club.

The center is focused on "ways to educate folks about the bay," Callis said. He said the center will be an open air structure "similar to a picnic shelter."

"That should be constructed before mid-summer," he said.

Callis and the city hope to someday create a sort of "working waterfront" at Messick Point, he said. Basically, that's a melding of commerce, tourism and industry where tourists want to visit the area where the fishmongers take in the day's catch to spend the day and also buy seafood.

The city has already seen some moderate success in such an endeavor by developing the boat ramp on Rens Road, Gochenour said.

"It really needed a renovation, and that renovation really drove up economic factors in that area," Gochenour said. Ideally, in the future, people would come down to Messick Point and buy fish straight out of the boat.

Those dreams aside, the city would welcome any increase in tourism dollars. Like its neighbor, York County, Poquoson is mostly a bedroom community and lacks high-dollar economic engines like shipbuilding or tech development.

"We want Poquoson to become a tourism destination," said Charity Gavaza, the city's economic development coordinator.

Callis was quick to amend that statement, saying the developments at Messick Point are meant to be enjoyed by residents and their guests. He said they're not trying to turn Poquoson into Virginia Beach. Any improvements, he said, would be for the benefit of Poquoson residents and the city's working watermen.

Sonny Hanson, who owns huge chunks of private property at the southern end of the point, including the Bull Island BBQ and the shop where watermen offload blue crab by the ton, said he doesn't think the improvements will help or harm the watermen, but said he hopes anybody who does visit buys some seafood.

Hanson said he knows the city needs to develop what it can to grow its tax base.

"Poquoson is a town that lives 100 percent from property tax, sales tax and meals tax," he said. "For our city to grow, we need to have more building, generate more property tax."

But, if nothing on the point changes, he's fine with that too.

"I love it like it is," he said.

Bell can be reached by phone at 757-746-6333.

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