PORTSMOUTH — Main Street Portsmouth is inviting the community to the 11th Annual Paul E Johnson Soiree, hosted by The Lofts Coffee Company and Roastery this June 6, alongside organizing partner and founder Kevin W Johnson.
The event is the largest fundraiser the Main Street Beautification Committee has each year, filling the gaps in city and private donor funding, which allows them to care for downtown parks, public spaces, and many beautification efforts from hanging baskets to flower urns, as well as maintenance efforts including grass cutting and watering contracts.
The soiree is typically in September to commemorate the life of Portsmouth native and MSP founding board member Paul E Johnson. Partner Kevin W Johnson served on the program with him as inaugural board members, shaping what would become the Main Street program we have today. Lofts owner Terry Ockerman was also very involved in the development of downtown, starting with Uptown Downtown Association, alongside Kevin, Paul and many others.
“We raised money to repave the 4th Street East and 7th Street parking lots. Paul felt that downtown Portsmouth should be considered Scioto County’s living room; it needed beautifying. When he died March 20, 2009, I contributed a modestly sizable check in his name to create the PJ fund, and we went from there. I wanted Paul to be remembered for his belief in MSP’s charter and future,” Johnson said recounting the early days.
Johnson said that, if Paul were alive to see progress made in the past decade, he would simply be thinking, “how can I raise more money?” This is what drives him to continue this fundraising effort for Sue and other Main Street volunteers. He explained that Paul would see the magic created by MSP President and Beautification Chairwoman Sue Burke, along with her many dedicated volunteers, and want to further give them tools to do their work.
Burke oversees a small army of dedicated volunteers, alongside MSP board member and right-hand woman Suzette Rhea. The program keeps an eye on Alexandria Point, the Esplanade, Market Square and Tracy Park—where they plant flowers, mulch beds and decorate seasonally. They pay for regular lawn maintenance on Alexandria, the Esplanade and city parking lots.
They also pay for watering on the 92 hanging baskets throughout downtown, which they also fund, plant and hang. The group also mulches tree wells, cares for 63 flowerpots and urns in public spaces, as well as 47 floral pots in front of businesses. Many of the displays have seasonal changes as well, especially in places like the Esplanade and the City Government building.
The group recently developed its first piece of property, 535 Second Street, which preserved the standing façade of a collapsed building and turning it into a luxurious pocket park. They recently received grant funding to expand the riverfront park, with a free public gym expansion for people to enjoy.
They have also spent years replacing small trash receptacles with much nicer and larger ones, as well as public benches. They are spending an additional $50,000 this summer on these items, thanks to private donors and the Scioto Foundation. They adopted the challenge of Tracy Park Christmas decorations two years ago and continue to grow the program, along with Chillicothe Street pole lights.
The group is always working on maintaining what has been built and planning for a future of even more development and placemaking. A lot of this work is accomplished with $15,000 given to the program from the city, alongside a successful grant writing team, with donors filling in the gaps, but the Paul Johnson Soiree has grown into a major source of that puzzle as well, bringing in thousands and thousands each year.
“It is always impressive to see what Main Street Volunteers and Sue Burke accomplish,” Executive Director Joseph Pratt said. “Most people who see their work immediately look up to these volunteers for doing so much for us to all enjoy. The other side of that coin is the Paul Johnson Soiree and Fund, because of the effort and time donated by Kevin Johnson and hosts each year that help fund these efforts. This year is no exception. We always have amazing hosts, but Terry Horner and Terry Ockerman are approaching this strategically and with so much love. I am very excited for guests to enjoy this event together.”
The event will welcome any community member who would like to spend an afternoon with refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. There will also be a silent auction with some incredible goods to bid on. It is a wonderfully laid-back event of socialization and pursuing the efforts of making downtown Portsmouth a place we are all proud to live, work and play.
“People living in and outside Portsmouth truly enjoy contributing to MSP’s efforts in beautifying downtown Portsmouth via Paul’s fund because many of them cannot volunteer whilst others know that Sue Burke will put their dollars to work on projects for which they can be proud. As well, people truly enjoy these soiree’s,” Johnson said. “It provides an opportunity to chat with others who seek to beautify and benefit downtown Portsmouth.”
All are invited to celebrate Paul, Main Street, and the downtown renaissance being partially done thanks to volunteers and programs funded by this event. Suggested donations are $30 per person for entry. Guests are welcome to give as much as they feel comfortable and also consider the silent auction. The event will be held Sunday, June 6, at Coffee @ the Lofts. You can also get tickets for the event at www.eventbrite.com/e/paul-e-johnson-memorial-fund-soiree-tickets-153376849285. For questions, call 740.464.4501.