More than 500 business and community leaders were in attendance to hear Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright provide an update on the city’s key business development initiatives, municipal progress updates and opportunities on April 2, 2015.
Mayor Wright began his speech by stating, “While the City of Portsmouth remains vigilant in our actions and optimistic in our viewpoints, we have painfully, yet successfully, weathered the economic storm and continue to rise from it as a more vibrant City.”
Portsmouth received a strong AA Rating from each agency with the major Wall Street Credit Rating Agencies including Moody’s Investors Services, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings.
In addition to the rating affirmation, the City’s outlook was enhanced by Moody’s from “negative” to “stable”. In taking this positive action, Moody’s specifically cited the City’s successful pension funding program that was implemented in 2013, as well as the recent steps taken to reform the system of health benefits provided to City employees. Wright commented, “This favorable credit rating result is important as it allows the City to finance new projects at more favorable interest rates in the market, and the ability to refinance existing debt in order to save money – all of which directly benefit our taxpayers.” He continued, “Because of this, we were able to reduce our overall interest rate on the bonds we refunded from an average of 4.42% to 2.86% - a reduction of more than 1.5% which will result in a $4,100,000 savings to the City over the life of these bonds.”
Portsmouth began the revitalization of the Midtown submarket in 2007. Wright stated, “Overall, the revitalization of Midtown Portsmouth, from the demolition of the old Mid-City to the entry of Wal-Mart to the opening of Kroger Marketplace, has helped to create approximately 600 jobs, exceeded $30 million in private investment, and generated millions of dollars of additional economic impact for the City.”
Phase I of the Downtown Master Utility plan is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. This massive undertaking includes the complete replacement of water and sanitary sewer lines, and includes improvements to the storm water infrastructure. This project will replace the century old infrastructure and also support future growth and development in the downtown area.
Currently, the City has $98 million in new private investment in multi-family development representing 675 units including both new construction and historic rehabilitation. Wright remarked, “This means there will be new “feet on the street” in Portsmouth, more consumers for businesses throughout the City, and increased interest by the private sector in our waterfront, historic buildings, and architecture.”
These retail and multifamily developments represent economic growth for Portsmouth. Wright elaborated, “First, the tax revenue is a direct contribution to expanding the City’s tax-base. Second, the private sector believes in Portsmouth and is making an investment in the City because of the opportunities they see ahead. And, finally, businesses have chosen and will continue to choose Portsmouth as “The Right Side of the River.”
Tourism is important to the City’s economy. According to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, visitors to Portsmouth last year spent $76 million, which supported 750 travel industry jobs and generated $3 million in City tax revenues.
In June, the City Council voted unanimously to purchase a 33-acre site on Portsmouth Boulevard for a multipurpose recreation and athletic complex. This is one of the largest land purchases the City has made in years and is consistent with the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
Wright stated, “Plans for the facility include: multi-use fields, a 25-meter swimming pool, a gymnasium for fitness and aerobics, a weight room, a full-sized cafeteria, classrooms, a ropes course, and much more. The first of the three buildings is slated to open later this month.”
Portsmouth is the only city in Hampton Roads to be named a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists as well as a “Walk Friendly Community” through the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.
The city is pleased to report that their residents have embraced the curbside recycling program. Wright stated, “In 2014, Portsmouth residents recycled 4,371 tons of plastic, paper, aluminum/tin and glass saving the city $1.3 million in trash disposal tipping fees in the first full year.”
The City was also recertified as an official United States Coast Guard City and is still the only one in the region.
In late August, the Portsmouth City Assessor’s Office was awarded with the Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration (CEAA) by the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). This award recognizes government assessment officials that employ the best appraisal and assessment practices in the workplace. Wright explained, “This means that Portsmouth is the first city on the Southside to receive the CEAA, the third city in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the 27th recipient of the award in the country out of 13,000 jurisdictions in the United States.”
This year, the Portsmouth Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services received the American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline EMS Bronze Award that recognized the department’s commitment and success in implementing quality improvement measures for the treatment of patients who suffer a severe heart attack. Portsmouth was one of the ten localities in Virginia to receive the award.
Public Safety continues to be a high priority for the City Council and the Portsmouth Police Department has achieved a 14% reduction in overall crime, a 24% reduction in violent crime and a 13% reduction in property crime. In 2014, the Portsmouth Police Department was again able to reduce the overall crime rate by 4.6%.
Fiscal year 2014 was a record year for the port; over 2.3 million twenty-foot equivalent unit containers (TEUs) were processed which is an increase of 6.5% over fiscal year 2013. In addition to the already increased production, the potential for more cargo is positive due to the capacity of Virginia Port Authority terminals because of the water depth. Wright said, “Portsmouth is becoming perfectly poised to reap the benefits with the already in place infrastructure direct road access via highways and automated service for trucks along with its on-dock rail access with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corporation.
Portsmouth is also home to the Craney Island Expansion Project, which is being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Virginia Port Authority. The expansion will develop 522 acres of land from dredged material on which to build a terminal facility projected to begin operations in 2028.
Wright stated, “With the recession in the rear-view mirror, we are driving our city forward through practical solutions, bold choices, and collaborative partnerships. However, the success of our City rests on the shoulders of each and every one of us.”
Wright concluded, “The City of Portsmouth is continuing to change and adapt to a new way. The old narrative: crumbling infrastructure, suburban flight, failing schools are gone. The new narrative includes infill development, increased economic development, job creation, revitalization, enhanced urban amenities, and unique attractions that draw young families and entrepreneurs…It is here that we unite as neighbors, business, family, and friends toward one common goal - achieving greatness, harmoniously, in our beloved City.”
Christy Allen, Vice President of Newtown Business Supplies, and the Chamber’s Building the Future Sponsor said, “Mayor Wright created wonderful positive energy in the room and creates it for the City.”
Elie Bracy, III the new Superintendent Portsmouth City Schools, was recognized at the event. Bracy said, “As a new comer to the area, it was great to see what has been accomplished, where the Mayor is setting the bar and I look forward to helping Portsmouth grow.”
Chandler Turner of Accurate Business Communications and Membership Chair for the Chamber’s Portsmouth Division Board said, “There are great opportunities for Portsmouth if we pay attention and reach out to make good connections locally and regionally.”
Thank you to series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting); Newtown Building Supplies (Building the Future Partner); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum); GEICO (Gold); Cox (Media); and Sentara Optima Health Plan (Silver).
Join the Chamber for the remaining State of the City events taking place on April 15th and May 14th. For more information and to register, visit Events.HamptonRoadsChamber.com.