Towards the end of April, the charitable nonprofit Scioto Foundation brought together a large number of Portsmouth stakeholders, to include local government officials, local entrepreneurs and even law enforcement leaders.
According to several sources, the two-day event was dubbed “Rethinking Downtown Portsmouth.” The summit received praise from the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) in Columbus, a think tank that tries to guide economic growth throughout Ohio but seems particularly concerned with the revitalization of Ohio’s so-called legacy cities.
According to GOPC Manager of Research John Collier, who attended the “Rethinking Portsmouth” forum, legacy cities or towns with populations between 15,000 and 70,000 persons but are also cities who have seen their populations plummet due to the loss of manufacturing and related jobs. Portsmouth is Ohio’s smallest legacy city, Collier said, with the largest being Youngstown. Other legacy cities closer to Portsmouth’s size would include such towns as Zanesville.
Scioto Foundation leaders were not readily available for comment on the forum earlier this week. However, one of those invited to the recent summit was local attorney and community activist Jeremy Burnside. Burnside is probably best known as one of the founders and leaders of the burgeoning community group Friends of Portsmouth.
According to Burnside, the various attendees eventually broke off into four groups. Each dealt with a specific, key topic, those topics being connectivity, infrastructure, helping local youth and the branding, or rebranding, of Portsmouth. Burnside was part of the latter group. While he did not want to tip the hand of the Friends of Portsmouth and others involved, Burnside said the branding group came up with some very good, practical ideas which could come to fruition far sooner than some might expect.
For a few weeks at least, the Friends group has been touting an upcoming rally set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Court Street near York Park. Burnside definitely encouraged attendance by anyone with any type of interest in Portsmouth.
“We don’t think anybody’s going to be leaving disappointed,” Burnside added.
For his part, Collier wrote extensively about the Portsmouth forum on the GOPC website.
“On the confluence of the Ohio River and Scioto River in Southern Ohio, Portsmouth’s population boomed from its founding in 1803 thanks to its growth in industry and commerce, peaking at just over 42,000 residents in 1930,” Collier wrote in part.
Collier added Portsmouth, just like its peers around the state and country, has struggled in recent years as it lost larger employers, dealt with opiate addiction and drops in population. He reported median household income is roughly half the national median income, 35% of residents live in poverty and labor force participation is about 15 percent below the national average.
But the Collier and the GOPC also had praise for Portsmouth.
“If you were to just look at the statistics for the city, however,” Collier wrote, “you would miss the many impressive steps the city and its leaders are taking to revitalize this riverside community. Leaders at Shawnee State and the Southern Ohio Medical Center are already deeply invested in the Portsmouth community and are tackling issues such as opiate addiction and talent retention. The Rethinking Downtown Portsmouth summit was an exercise in strengthening this civic infrastructure.”
With regard to the “Rethinking Portsmouth” forum, Collier said just the fact the forum even happened was a step in the right direction.
“The mere existence of this was a positive sign for us,” Collier told the Daily Times.
According to Collier, the four groups mentioned by Burnside came up with the following generalized recommendations:
– Increasing communication and collaboration within the community
– Ensuring a safe and affordable housing stock
– Creating opportunities for employment for under served populations
– Creating a unified marketing and branding campaign for the city
– Connecting Shawnee State University and downtown Portsmouth
– Improving options for walking and biking
While it might sound a bit clichéd, Collier described the outcomes of the recent forum as “a blueprint for change in the community.”
Although not a fully-fleshed out plan, Collier contends the results can guide future investments within the city. He said the plans created chip away incrementally at the problems faced by Portsmouth instead of proposing one huge, perhaps, unrealistic scheme.
“It’s about changing perceptions for outsiders but also for the people living in the city,” Collier concluded.
According to Collier, the Scioto Foundation pledged up to $100,000 in grants for feasibility studies and direct project support related to the outcomes of the summit.
Further information on the plans of the Friends of Portsmouth and Thursday’s rally should be forthcoming prior to that event.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.