“The state of our city is good and getting better,” stated Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright at his Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Portsmouth State of the City speech on Wednesday, April 13th at the Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront Hotel. Mayor Wright discussed Portsmouth’s finances, economic development, investments in their infrastructure, and their challenges.
The city of Portsmouth received a Strong AA Rating by three major credit agencies and Portsmouth has just refinanced bonds to lower interest rates. They will be seeking low-to-no interest financing for many of the fiscal year 2017 Capital Improvement Program projects and have over 50% non-debt financing sources for their Capital Improvement Program.
Mayor Wright is working hard on community engagement in the way Portsmouth connects, by involving and collaborating with the community in decision-making processes. Portsmouth has held numerous public forums, two public hearings, a Working Support of Education Back to School Community Day, and three Community Engagement Budgets Forums, which is helping make budget decisions that are more closely aligned with citizen input. They also had a community forum that held a search and selection process for both the new Fire and Police Chiefs.
There has been an increase in activity for Economic Development in Portsmouth in sectors such as retail, multi-family and port related development. The private sector is investing over $160 million in new construction or redevelopment projects. With the Midtown Marketplace completing its second phase in May of 2015, it has brought in national companies such as Kroger Marketplace, T.J. Maxx, CATO Fashions, WaWa, Dunkin Donuts, and other stores. There are over 800 multi-family units being built resulting in over $100 million in private investment. There are several residential communities being built because of an increasing number of “renters-by-choice” who want flexible living situations while demanding amenities that go with their lifestyle.
The foreclosure rate in Portsmouth dropped from 16% to 14% in 2015 and there were 102 new homes that were built and sold which brought in $32 million in new property this year. The population in Portsmouth is growing. Since 2010 there has been a growth of 1,250 residents and is projected to grow another 6,000 residents by 2040. In 2015, there have been 3,257 new homeowners in Portsmouth.
The Portsmouth Public School Division and the City of Portsmouth are working together to consolidate and share common services to enhance the image of Portsmouth Public Schools. “Education is the key to our future success. Education is key to prosperity, equality, and opportunity.” In March, the City of Portsmouth launched a city-wide campaign called “Get Them to School…Make it Count”. This campaign addresses the effects of chronic absenteeism, helps increase student enrollment, and celebrates student success. Also, this upcoming summer, through a Cybersecurity Education grant through the Virginia Department of Education, 25 rising 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students will have the opportunity to participate in the Virginia CyberCamp Program.
Bringing up the challenges Portsmouth faces, the biggest one is the crime. Under the new leadership of Police Chief Tonya Chapman, Portsmouth is enhancing their existing programs. They are also taking new steps to strengthen relationships between the community and law enforcement by advancing the use of body cameras, building capacity through current community policing initiatives, and working with ODU criminologists, sociologists, and national leaders to figure out the best models to change the culture of policing.
“Progress is a 24/7 365 day a year job that requires the endurance to stick with it and advance through the process for the betterment of New Portsmouth. It is important that we continue to have faith and trust in each other,” concluded Mayor Wright. The final State of the City address will be May 10th with Mayor Linda Johnson in Suffolk. Seats are still available.
Thank you to our sponsors: TowneBank (Series Presenting Sponsor); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Series Platinum Sponsor); GEICO (Series Gold Sponsor); Everest College, Farm Fresh, & Optima Health (Series Silver Sponsors); Cox Communications & Sinclair Communications (Series Media Sponsors); Kroger Marketplace (Bronze Sponsor).