What This Is About

Norfolk’s Opportunity:

Every decade or so, cities experience an extraordinary opportunity in their natural evolution as a place – a time when events and developments conspire to significantly advance the city’s raison d’etre. If this movement is packaged and promoted thoughtfully, it can change a region’s “reputation trajectory” as one of America’s most preferred places to live, work and play. Norfolk’s moment has arrived!

When viewed collectively, the City of Norfolk’s latest real estate development projects and place-making activities are creating an opportunity for Norfolk to tell its story in a more relevant and seamless manner where the whole (over-arching message) is greater than the sum of its parts (specific development projects).

Formulating Norfolk’s Message:

To get our story down, the City of Norfolk, Festevents and the Downtown Norfolk Council have joined forces to create the Norfolk Collaboratory – a fun and creative way to crowdsource Norfolk’s story.

SIR Logo (1)The Southeastern Institute of Research (SIR) is supporting our effort. Why SIR? First, they have decades of experience in researching and consulting with destinations, attractions, towns and cities. Second, they know Norfolk. SIR has supported a number of Norfolk institutions, including WHRO, Tidewater Community College, Downtown Norfolk Council, Hampton Roads Transit – to name a few. Furthermore, John W. Martin, SIR’s CEO, is a Norfolk stakeholder. He and his wife, Sara Greer Martin, have a home here.

The Collaboratory’s goal, through an innovative crowdsourcing collaboration process, is to identify Norfolk’s potential, shape our story, and provide the key messaging that will leverage all of the exciting announcements on the immediate horizon.

The Input We Need:

Our planning process includes gathering as many different opinions and perspectives as possible. To help this happen, we have mapped out a sensible road map to get our work done. This includes:

1)    Creating a “straw man” messaging architecture document

2)    Inviting everyone’s feedback via this site

3)    Holding a series of public input sessions to explain the entire process in great detail to:

  • Learn about the major trends shaping U.S. cities
  • Appreciate how the City of Norfolk is stacking up
  • Understand our opportunity to better tell our story
  • Review the Collaboratory’s initial “straw man” brand messaging architecture
  • Provide feedback to help refine our work
  • Start thinking about how your organization can advance Norfolk’s story

John Martin’s (CEO of SIR) presentation from the input sessions can be viewed below:


The Most Important Part of The Collaboratory – You:

Our process only works if everyone who has a vested interest in Norfolk’s future gets involved in a positive and supportive way.  By positive and supportive, we mean just that – positive and supportive in terms of figuring out Norfolk’s most compelling message. This is not a forum where stakeholders complain or talk about what’s wrong with Norfolk. This initiative is all about what’s right about Norfolk.

If you’re not involved yet, just follow these three easy steps:

1) Read the official report on all the projects in Norfolk that are about to unfold.

2) Review our proposed “straw man” messaging architecture document.

3) Give us your feedback by taking our survey or contacting us.

The Immediate Goal of The Collaboratory:

The first goal of the Collaboratory is to formulate a brand messaging architecture – a communications blue print that tells Norfolk’s story. This communications blueprint will help Norfolk’s attractions and organizations, including the newest development projects, incorporate Norfolk’s overall messaging into their own project messaging. Here are three examples of how this is already working, all of which are based on the preliminary or “straw man” positioning statement:

“The City of Norfolk is America’s vibrant, heritage port city where people of all backgrounds and ages are actively transforming their neighborhoods, economy, and culture into the most fun and livable waterfront community in the world.”


The examples:

Heritage Port City:



VisitNorfolk, our City’s non-profit destination marketing organization, is already exploring ways to position Norfolk as part of an elite group of “must see” heritage port cities. Creating this list immediately puts Norfolk into a elite group of historic ports and this offers another way to advance Norfolk as a travel destination.


People who are transforming the neighborhoods, economy and culture:


The goal of Green Build It is not only to make sustainable, eco-friendly modern homes, but also to make them affordable to the everyday Norfolk citizen. With refitting and upgrading unoccupied homes at the forefront of their agenda, Green Build It is transforming Norfolk’s neighborhoods.

Kevin O’Connor feels that every progressive city in America deserves to have its own microbrewery. O’Connor’s business is helping transform Norfolk’s local food scene, and in the process, helping to brew a new industry. O’Connor’s is taking off, quadrupling its space and laying the foundation for a new industry everyone can soak up. So, too, is Norfolk’s Smartmouth, wining national awards and recognition as one of the Southeast’s most promising startup breweries. Together, O’Connor’s and Smartmouth are literally putting Norfolk on the U.S. Brewery map.

Duane Thompson of Sabrosa uses locally grown produce to create an all-natural product line. According to Duane, the City of Norfolk is the perfect place for his business as there is a growing culture of supporting local entrepreneurs and locally-sourced products. As he developed Sabrosa, Duane worked with the city to learn about government procurement and now his product is available in military commissaries.


Most fun and livable waterfront community in the world:


fest events bannerFestevents is already making plans to use its line up of 2014 events to showcase even more of Norfolk’s waterfront lifestyle and diversity of neighborhoods.

Festevents opens the doors to Downtown Norfolk. 70% of Festevents’ attendees live in Hampton Roads with the majority of this group living outside the City of Norfolk. The other 30% of Festevents’ attendees come from outside the Hampton Roads’ region. The one thing all of these Norfolk guests have in common: they love Norfolk’s events (80% give a 4 or 5 rating on satisfaction), love downtown Norfolk (81% give a 4 or 5 rating on the appeal of downtown), and many (over 50% spend money on non-event attraction and experiences when they’re here for fun).* No question, Festevents is part of the subtle recruitment force for Norfolk employers and even Norfolk’s future residential base.

Building on this strategic role, Festevents is now doubling down on advancing the Collaboratory’s “straw man” positioning vision as Norfolk being the “most fun and livable waterfront community in the world.”  Look for fun profiles on Norfolk’s neighborhoods and even more water sports at Festevents’ 2014 events.

* A five-point scale was used in this study.

Where The Norfolk Collaboratory Could Go Next:

Who knows? Over time, this entire planning effort could morph into different iterations. For example, it could become Norfolk’s ongoing “future think tank,” a public forum and resource center where we can identify and discuss “what’s next” and how we could use this knowledge to help shape our future. A similar effort is going on in Richmond with Richomond’s Future (www.richmondfuture.com )

Contact Us:

We are facing a tremendous opportunity to advance Norfolk. If you want to help us, beyond providing your immediate feedback and suggestions on our messaging architecture, we want to hear from you.

Contact Christine Morris with the City of Norfolk at Christine.Morris@norfolk.gov.


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