PORTSMOUTH – On May 9, 2019, local business owner Ed Newsome announced a new hotel project in downtown Portsmouth. The announcement came at an organized pep rally on the riverfront. Local and regional media were even invited to share the story.
Nearly three years later, the project remains in limbo. Citizens have regularly complained the incomplete hotel is unsightly, and worse, creates a hazard to public safety due to a lack of sidewalks on the corner of Second and Washington Street.
Last month, City Council passed legislation that would require Newsome and the Brighter Vision Group to rebuild the sidewalks – or the City would do it themselves and assess the cost (estimated to be $26,080) to the property’s taxes.
But Newsome vehemently disagrees with the legislation and attended Monday evening’s council meeting to air his grievances with the resolution, media coverage, and the City’s support for the project.
“We live in a society of cancel culture, malicious social media, and traditional media that doesn’t always verify their information,” said Newsome. “And I’m very disappointed, and in some cases, personally offended by city council and city officials since the inception of our project…We announced our hotel development at a very large event at the riverfront. I was disappointed that I was not greeted or congratulated by members of the city council, the mayor or city officials.”
“I’ve been disappointed by general comments at city council since the inception of our project. Some of these comments have included speculation that the current building is dangerous and we need to build it, tear it down or sell it. I was disappointed to see the mayor and city engineer talking with local television networks about the project. What was the purpose if not to disparage our project?”
“We went through a major disaster the likes no one has ever seen,” continued Newsome. “Businesses throughout our nation were crippled. The hospitality industry, especially hotels, were affected. I stand here before you tonight with all belief that we will complete this hotel. This is not a ‘failed construction project’… I ask city council to rescind resolution four.”
Newsome went on to air more grievances – stating that he had not received any communication from the City that he had not answered – including certified mail from code enforcement officer Andy Gedeon as well as phone calls from 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon.
“On Dec. 6, 2021, we sent a certified letter ordering you to fix the sidewalks and correct the construction zone,” stated Gedeon.
“I don’t recall receiving anything like that,” responded Newsome.
Gedeon produced the letter.
“This is by far the No. 1 complaint we get in code enforcement,” he said. “And I’ve received nothing but excuses…this isn’t acceptable. It’s an extreme public safety issue with kids crossing the street.”
“I personally disagree,” said Newsome, refuting the safety complaint.
City Solicitor John Haas also interjected, stating that the sidewalk legislation was available on public notices, meeting agenda, meeting minutes, and could even be viewed via council meeting live streams.
“This legislation came after the third meeting with the state building inspector,” said Haas. “Because of COVID and all the other issues, I feel like we have bent over backward…but the concern is now public safety.”
“My position is that there hasn’t been construction for two years,” said City Engineer Nathan Prosch. “I don’t know when or if construction will resume. And I’ve always stated my main concern is public safety.”
“You are putting another cost on me – and we are already facing a tough situation,” said Newsome. “There are sidewalks across the street. This is not a public danger.”
Newsome went on to say the hotel will be built but refused to list a time frame stating, “I cannot articulate a date. I cannot comment publicly.”
In the end, the city council took no action and gave no indication they would rescind the resolution.
“We talk about cancel culture, social media – well, I’ll talk about the angry phone calls we get asking ‘what the hell is going on?” said Mayor and 1st Ward councilperson Sean Dunne. “Parents are asking why their kids are walking on the street. People are angry. This is a dangerous intersection. The reason we had to take action was because it’s a public safety issue. This isn’t anti-development. This is about trying to ensure a kid isn’t going to get hit by a car – or anyone else for that matter. And if this adds $26,000 to a multimillion-dollar project to ensure a kid doesn’t get hit – we are willing to do that.”
“It’s not mutually exclusive to have a safe walking path and a successfully built hotel,” Dunne said.