The Scioto County Welcome Center sits in what its tenants call a prime location at the corner of Second and Front streets. It also serves a unique and much-needed purpose, they add.
However, the tenants also say there is a lot of confusion over the purpose of the building and who owns it as well as the mission of its mostly nonprofit occupants.
“Our individual organizations have very specific functions, however, we work very closely together because of many overlapping functions,” says Lisa Carver, executive director for the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. “We’re unique in that we make it work very well. Many communities don’t have the harmony among the community organizations like we do in Scioto County. We take great pride in that.”
In addition to the chamber, tenants of the Welcome Center include Main Street Portsmouth and the Portsmouth-Scioto County Visitors Bureau. Like Carver, her counterparts at the Visitors Bureau and Main Street Portsmouth say they have interlocking missions, but also have their own unique areas of responsibility and expertise, facts they say sometimes seem to get lost on the public.
Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce
Perhaps the most visible of the Welcome Center’s main occupants is the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce. Carver says the chamber’s interests are spread throughout the county. They are, of course, a membership-based organization aimed at promoting and helping local businesses of all types.
“The chamber of commerce is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that unites the efforts of business and professional individuals to foster a healthy economy to benefit the entire community. We strive to provide a format for business in which ideas can grow and be shared,” reads part of a fact sheet provided by Carver. “Funded by over 450 members and driven by progressive leadership, our organization offers programs and services that support our members and, in turn, support the community.
“While the chamber’s primary focus is empowering our members to achieve success by providing them a variety of services and benefits, its broader focus is encouraging community involvement and pride. The chamber works in collaboration with many other organizations and local government to promote our community has an exceptional place to live, learn, work and visit,” the sheet concludes.
Main Street Portsmouth
While its mission may seem similar to that of the chamber, under the leadership of Executive Director Joseph Pratt, this local civic promoter – part of the national Main Street organization, its local director emphasized — concentrates on celebrating downtown Portsmouth, including the historic Boneyfiddle area. Pratt says beautification is probably his group’s main function. They spend about $9,000 annually just watering the flowers, vegetation and trees they plant throughout central Portsmouth. Pratt adds that if you see something growing in downtown Portsmouth, chances are his group planted it.
Main Street also works to beautify and restore historic buildings and businesses by providing grants for improving downtown property. For example, the antique store Ghosts in the Attic has replaced its roof and windows. The store is now seeking a grant to help restore brick work on the outside of its building. Pratt says 90 percent of any work done to buildings in downtown Portsmouth in the past five years or so likely received aid from Main Street. The only exception he mentions is work being done by private developer Tim Wolfe on Second Street.
Additionally, Pratt says his group helps put together any number of events downtown. The annual summer Farmers Market begins May 19. A sidewalk sale on Second will be held Saturday. There are some events in the planning stages, including a chocolate walk and a wine walk.
Portsmouth-Scioto County Visitors Bureau
Led by the Executive Director Kim Bauer, this nonprofit is funded by the area’s hotel/motel bed tax. It is charged with promoting tourism and events not just downtown, but throughout Scioto County. Bauer says the bureau often gets mistaken for being the organization that runs the Welcome Center. In actuality, Bauer says she is charged with promoting everything from River Days to the annual Lucas Oil dirt track racing championships held at Portsmouth Raceway Park. Telecast on ESPN, that event can attract up to 15,000 people to the area.
“People say there isn’t a lot to do here,” Bauer says, but she adds she can go to various trade shows and talk for hours about various happenings in Portsmouth. One new event headed this way is a series of bicycle races slated for this summer, which will serve as qualifiers for the state Senior Olympics. Bauer had a direct hand in bringing that event to town.
There may be a reason the Visitors Bureau sometimes gets labeled as running the Welcome Center. Right off the Front Street entrance to the building, Bauer maintains racks of pamphlets and flyers describing and explaining attractions in and around Portsmouth. The rack offerings range from local restaurant menus to brochures on Shawnee Forest. That part of the building, located right across the street from Portsmouth’s famous flood wall murals, is open seven days a week.
The Welcome Center and the Community Action Organization
The Community Action Organization (CAO) is the actual owner of the Welcome Center, renting space to the three other groups as well as an Ohio State University Extension Office. The CAO offers job programs, HEAP assistance, GED help and similar services from its offices at Third and Market streets. It also rents office space in the Welcome Center to two private businesses, a real estate office and a financial planner. As one of its main fundraisers, the CAO holds bingo games in the Welcome Center three times a week. The CAO also rents banquet space in the building. Carver and the others say they often get questions about CAO activities, activities they don’t necessarily know a lot about. The organizations also say they each have separate offices and phone numbers. Although they are all in the same building, it is not possible to transfer a phone call from, say, the chamber offices to Pratt’s office. Apparently, sometimes the public does not understand that fact.
Phone numbers for the various groups are as follows (all area code 740):
– Chamber of Commerce: 353-7647
– Main Street Portsmouth: 464-0203
– Visitors Bureau 353-1116
Each group also operates its own Facebook page.
Although they maintain separate offices and identities, Carver, Pratt and Bauer all emphasize repeatedly how much they work together. They say their organizations are somewhat unique in the amount of cooperation between them.
“We all work very closely together — there is no infighting,” Carver says.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931