Local business owners skeptical of bypass

By Frank Lewis

September 27, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

At a recent meeting of Portsmouth City Council, President of Council Steve Sturgill asked an Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman if any economic impact study had been done recently concerning the city of Portsmouth once the new Portsmouth Bypass is constructed. Sturgill was told ODOT is unaware of any such study in recent years.

With a projected 20,000 to 26,000 cars a day utililizing the new bypass, some Portsmouth business operators believe it could have a negative impact on commerce.

“From a selfish viewpoint as far as my businesses are concerned, it will definitely hurt our business,” Scott Schmidt told the Daily Times.

Schmidt owns and operates, among many other restaurants in the tri-state area, Wendy’s locations in Portsmouth, Buffalo Wild Wings and LaRosa’s Pizza, also in Portsmouth.

“I think it will hurt the business of anyone in the service industry,” Schmidt said. “You’re taking all that traffic. Many times I have gone out to the Scioto Trail location and the Gallia Street location and looked at all the people from out of town that visit our places. I know McDonald’s will be in the same boat, along with Tim Horton’s and Burger King. I just think what little bit of businesses we have left in town are of the service industry and we’re removing that volume perspective taking customers from the area by rerouting them out of our town.”

Schmidt said people who are not business operators in Portsmouth will most likely appreciate the removal of the traffic congestion that sometimes exists at the major highway intersections - “but at the same time, those are people that stop in our restaurants, or get something from the drug stores. Every place it is just going to take away a lot of people,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he recently discussed the issue with Sturgill, who has been very open about the questions he has about the economic impact such a project will have on the city of Portsmouth. Sturgill told the Daily Times he did not want to comment on the subject because of his personal involvement. Sturgill will lose his house to the project, which he says will have a negative impact on his life as well as a possible impact on his political future if he is unable to find a house in the Sixth Ward which he represents on City Council.

“People throw out, ‘you bring in the interstate and that makes you a boom town,’” Schmidt said. “How many hundreds of thousands of miles of interstate do we have in this United States? Every little town, every little burg, that does not mean they are going to be a boom town.”

Schmidt talked about the intermodal facilities which presently exist in the Portsmouth area, and the hope that a new steel mill will locate at Franklin Furnace.

“We already have rail (CSX and Norfolk Southern). We already have water (Ohio River), and I think the highway system (U.S. 23 and U.S. 52), without a doubt, is good enough to transport things if New Steel does happen, I don’t think it is that much of an issue if they have to drive through Portsmouth. It’s a natural kind of bypass to begin with,” Schmidt said.

Jeff Albrecht is a developer, who, in addition to being involved in a lot of areas building such facilities as CVS stores, also owns and operates the downtown Portsmouth Holiday Inn.

“I don’t think the Bypass is going to be good for our area,” Albrecht said. “I hate to be negative about it, and I’m certainly not going to go out and do what I can to stop it, but my own personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it won’t be good for our area.”

Albrecht said the Portsmouth Bypass is different from a bypass in Chillicothe or the Lancaster area, or even the bypass that is going to locate in Nelsonville.

“All of those bypasses are really close to the city, and Portsmouth is different. The closest connection with our Bypass is going to be 30 minutes away,” Albrecht said. “I feel like the existing businesses in town are going to be out.”

Albrecht said, conversely, the project will most likely help Ironton and Lawrence County.

“It will be good for them because people will now bypass Portsmouth, and, if they’re going to stop for fuel or food, or whatever, I think they will stop up there just like they do in Portsmouth now,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said he does not think the Bypass will hurt his hotel business.

“I don’t really get much of the through traffic anyway. I’m not a roadside hotel,” Albrecht said. “But I think the other hotels, the restaurants, the gas stations, and those kinds of businesses, I think it is going to have an effect on them.”

Albrecht was quick to add he believes the action taken in Columbus came with good intentions.

“I really appreciate the efforts of Governor (John) Kasich in trying to make this happen,” Albrecht said. “I think he really thinks that he is doing something that is in the best interest of the community. And I certainly don’t want to, in any way, short change the efforts that he has made, because I really think that he thought this through and he really thinks he’s doing something to help us. The governor really wants to do something to help us down here.”

Schmidt reiterated - “This whole Bypass thing never did make sense to me, but I have to step up and say I have selfish motives because of my business. But when I’ve talked to other people in business I have never found someone who is for it.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.