PDT Staff Writer
With the failure of the proposed Portsmouth City Center/Justice Center, the city and other groups are looking on to what's next.
There is no doubt the City of Portsmouth needs a new building to conduct government in. Officials with the city will now have to go back to the drawing board in the effort of getting new facilities.
"The voters of Portsmouth have once again spoken loud and clear. In defeating the Marting's Building City Hall/Retail Mall proposal, voters of Portsmouth, for the second time in less than two years, people have made their voices heard; this time saying, in effect, 'Retail development of the Marting's building is not the responsibility of Portsmouth taxpayers,'" a statement from A Better government Coalition stated.
"We (A Better Government Coalition) have mixed emotions about the issue. We were painted as being against progress -- we are certainly not. They (City Council) had an opportunity when the original city building committee made its recommendation for one building -- $7 million dollars -- much less expensive. The committee also outlined how to develop and market Marting's," Kevin Johnson spokesperson for A Better Government Coalition said.
Johnson said with the committees recommendation it would have put the risk with developers and others, just not the tax payers.
"We always have felt that was the best plan. One of the other reasons to, is that it was a public discussion. Did everyone agree with it? Absolutely not, it was done in public and was a consensus agreement," Johnson stated.
Johnson went on to talk about the endorsements the group Progress Portsmouth had for the projects from community groups and others.
"For city hall to be in the 21st century with computers and the wiring that's needed along with everything else, you do not want to go into an old building," Johnson said.
He said the requirements that would be necessary for a city building would be great. He said the city would be better off to build new.
"To build new, then you can also incorporate high emergency efficiency equipment and hopefully, not end up like our current city hall -- falling apart," Johnson said.
"Unless the 60 percent of the population that voted against this are invited to the table to participate, nothing is going to get done. We are just asking to be apart of the conversations, and that's all that anyone ever wants," Johnson said.
By a vote of 4,160 to 3,024, voters said they don't want to pay the $12 million for the City Center/Justice Center project proposed by council.
Portsmouth Mayor Jim Kalb said there are positive aspects to the issue. "So many people did come out and were vocal about what they felt was right for the city. We had a lot of support. We have a lot of people to thank. I think it was great that we had so many people who put their names out there speaking out for what they felt was best for the city."
"The Marting's Foundation is sitting on $1.4 million. They could hook up with a developer (and) provide that money as seed money to clean it up and attract a core group of businesses," Johnson said.
He pointed out that downtown does not have a single restaurant. "That's (the Marting's building) a great location for something like that. You have the students downtown. There is all sorts of things they could do with the building, just not at tax payer expense."
Johnson said A Better Government Coalition would be open to the idea of working with groups like Progress Portsmouth and others to find a solution to the issue.
"We are too small of a community to be broken up into factions. We are family. We may disagree on certain issues on how to get there, but we do agree on where we want to be," Johnson said. "The question is how do we get to where we want to be. I think all of us agree we want progress for Portsmouth. We want to be in a position to attract new businesses and attract people who want to live here and be proud. The questions is how do we get there."
Johnson said the way you get there, is by opening doors for participation, letting people have their say and coming to a concensus.
He agreed there is a common vision for progress in Ports-mouth. "Progress depends on people participating,"
Austin Keyser said he sees something positive in those who worked for the project.
"I'm still excited about the coalition of community groups that came together to support a common interest," Keyser said. "It looks like the voters just said it was not something they were willing to support."
Will the coalition continue to work on other projects?
"I hope so. I think it will, absolutely. I think we'll stick together," Keyser said.
Harold Daub -- an outspoken opponent to the City Center -- said in an earlier interview there are alternatives to the plan that was proposed. When asked what he thinks the alternative to the plan should be, he said, "There are alternatives...No more taxes. There are other alternatives. I've mentioned them before," Daub said. "Let's get the grants first. Let's advertise the building for sale. Let's look at a private investor building a building and leasing it to the city. There's a lot of other options. I think the taxpayers have spoken. They did understand. They understood the first time."
Kalb talked about what the next step will be.
"I suppose that we will have a discussion with City Council and see what our next step is," Kalb said. "That will be a decision on City Council as to where we go from here."
Area residents received a hint as to what direction the city may go in now that residents have voted "no" on the project.
Kalb was speaking at a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Portsmouth on Oct. 23, where at one point he was fielding questions, according to the club's weekly news letter, "The Rambler."
Kalb was asked if the city would go ahead with a project if the proposal failed.
Kalb said there have been conversations pertaining to alternatives to the current City Center plan.
The mayor said the city "will (be) building anyway at the Adelphia property for all offices." But Kalb cautioned, "it will cost more than the Marting's building and Adelphia property combined."
He also said it would cost $25 million to $30 million to build a structure like the Marting's building.
"I don't know if it's the stigma that has been with the Marting's building so long, but undoubtedly, it's not what the citizens wanted us to do," Kalb said.