Strategic planning could be the key to the future of Portsmouth and all of Scioto County, according to Torey Hollingsworth, manager of research and policy with the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus.
Hollingsworth was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the annual Scioto Foundation luncheon.
During her talk before about 50 or so local officials and community leaders, Hollingsworth talked about strategically planning comebacks in what she termed “legacy cities” — older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant declines in population and jobs, resulting in diminished service capacity and resources. Portsmouth is undoubtedly a legacy city, Hollingsworth said, one of 20 small to mid-sized legacy cities in Ohio.
“The strategic planning process itself can be incredibly helpful,” Hollingsworth said, following up on her talk during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. She added that the planning process cannot only help bring local officials together, it can help identify specifically what issues need to be addressed and what resources are available or can be made available to address the identified issues.
During her talk at the foundation luncheon and later, Hollingsworth spoke extensively of a 15-year plan which has greatly aided Lancaster, Pa., a legacy city she admitted is much larger than Portsmouth. Planners there decided there was an untapped potential to bring in conventions to a revamped and rehabbed downtown. Although Hollingsworth does not believe Portsmouth ever is going to be a major player in terms of conventions, she said the city does have several resources it could leverage to bring about economic development, including the downtown area. While there are numerous abandoned storefronts and deteriorating buildings, Hollingsworth believes there is also a lot of potential in rehabbing historic buildings and storefronts. She noted there are several state and federal programs, such as tax credits, that could possibly aid in funding rehabilitation work.
Hollingsworth also said the city needs to play up its scenic location along the Ohio River. In terms of attractions, the city’s flood wall murals could become a key asset, even far more than they already are. Hollingsworth also talked about the city leveraging the presence of Shawnee State University. She said as she left Portsmouth after Tuesday’s foundation luncheon, she was greatly surprised by the number of young people wandering around downtown Portsmouth.
“That’s very unusual for a city the size of Portsmouth,” Hollingsworth said, noting that a local coffee shop was packed with young visitors. “I see that as a huge opportunity for the city to leverage,” she continued, adding Portsmouth also obviously needs to leverage any institutional resources available because of the presence of the university.
With regards to the downtown, homegrown developer Eflow Development recently unveiled several projects aimed at Second Street, including a candy store, restaurant and several apartments to be built above street level retail spaces. Although she was understandably unfamiliar with the plans, Hollingsworth said such development couldn’t hurt. She especially liked the idea of more folks living in the downtown area. Hollingsworth continued that just having people present and using the downtown at different hours of the day and night can really change people’s perception of the city.
According to that city’s website, Lancaster, Pa., began its rebuilding in 1998 with the formation of what was called the Lancaster City Alliance. The alliance is apparently a combination of elected officials and community leaders. Following the success of their initial plan, Lancaster’s leaders are now putting together yet another strategic plan.
“This effort is not a sequel to previous plans; instead, this plan is a fresh look at Lancaster City and a tool for attracting continued investment,” Lancaster’s website reads, in part. “This plan strives to create an environment that fosters growth and development, elevates the economic well-being of Lancastrians, and sets a foundation for healthy urban economic development for the coming years.”
The website notes the plan is designed to be primarily driven by the private sector and supported by public sector involvement. It is noted that public input was a critical component in the planning process.
Looking a bit closer to home, Hollingsworth talked about development plans under way in Ohio cities such as Hamilton. That city’s rebirth is in the hands of a private, nonprofit organization that is handling much of the planning and apparently attempting to find funding for its goals.
During closing remarks made at Tuesday’s luncheon, Scioto Foundation Executive Director Kim Cutlip said 15-year development plans may not be “sexy,” but they can be extremely helpful. She noted one theme of the foundation for this year is “Pride of Place,” which, she added means putting an emphasis on livability and quality of life, concentrating on such things as public spaces, public art and perhaps even just fixing sidewalks to make areas more attractive.
Scioto County officials did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. In Portsmouth, Acting Mayor Kevin E. Johnson said he would definitely support some sort of planning process. However, Johnson added he believes some efforts are already under way. He talked about the new plans for Second Street, and the possibility of a multi-use path along Front Street.
“There are some really smart people doing some really smart things downtown,” Johnson said, adding that while he has nothing against planning, some things may happen quicker than 15 years. Johnson also said the city obviously must take advantage of the presence of Shawnee State University.
“The college is clearly key to the whole area,” Johnson concluded.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931