Portsmouth's glass is clearly half full
By: Peter Weeks
Date: Sunday, Jan 9, 2011
Publication: Portsmouth Herald
Editor's note: This is the first in a regular column by Peter Weeks that will run one edition a month in Seacoast Sunday.
As we enter 2011 it is important to look back to where we have been and look to the future as to where we are going.
The city of Portsmouth has been very fortunate in these difficult economic times. That is not by chance but by the efforts of many who have put Portsmouth in a better position than other communities in New Hampshire and around the country.
The city's unemployment level is below the state average and well below the national average. That does not just happen. It is through the efforts of the Economic Development Commission over the years in attracting a diversified business community. By attracting different types of businesses to the city it helps in a time of recession.
We have combined new businesses with those that existed for many years. Local families like the Blalocks, Labries and Riccis have continued their business activities giving over the reins to the next generation.
We are very fortunate that new people have decided to invest their time and resources in the city. Jeff Johnston and Cathartes Private Investments have developed the Hilton Garden Hotel, the downtown Marriott Residence Inn and they are continuing the development of Portwalk, which is adjacent to the hotels.
Stephen Kelm has stepped to the plate and reinvested in lower State Street, designed and developed the former Eagle Photo property into a mix of restaurant, retail, office and residential. He has started construction for a development on Islington Street. His latest investment on Maplewood Avenue would bring a Faneuil Hall type marketplace to downtown Portsmouth.
We are fortunate that local architect Lisa DeStefano has made Portsmouth her home after growing up in the city. Her efforts in designing projects in the city have combined old time architecture with current trends. Her work as the local architect on the middle school project assures the building will fit into the neighborhood.
The city has been tabbed by national publications as a good place to live, work and visit. The Washington Post writes "An often overlooked treasure by the sea." Portsmouth has been listed as one of the eight most romantic North American cities. Forbes' traveler lists Portsmouth as one of "America's Prettiest Towns." We are currently being considered for the prestigious Reinhard Mohn Award and are one of the seven finalists worldwide.
The reason people have come to Portsmouth to invest in projects or local families have continued to put their resources into new projects or to upgrade existing properties cannot be ignored. We need to look at why we are attractive. The city has been fortunate that the local governing body has been progressive in running the city. The Planning Board has developed a master plan with extensive and broad public participation. The final plan adopted by the City Council ensures a framework of where the city should go in its development, how to participate in the arts, what they envision for life within the community.
The city has maintained an excellent recreation program and during the 2009 budget deliberation formed a private partnership to maintain the operation of the indoor pool to keep it open.
We have an excellent education system that addresses the needs of the students. We are known far and wide for our excellent special education program. If a family has a special needs child they look to locate to Portsmouth because of the educational advantages that are offered. The high school provides a program for a student wishing to attend an Ivy League school as well as a student wishing to go into the trades.
The City Council has been fortunate over the past 14 years to have John Bohenko as city manager. During that time they have worked on a capital improvement program to insure city infrastructure is maintained on a schedule. They have invested in a water treatment plant that will be operational by 2012 and possibly will be the first LEED certified plant. Construction was completed in 2010 of a new Fire Station 2 on Lafayette Road and is hopeful the facility will be LEED certified as well.
Although it may have been difficult driving around the city this year we will all benefit from the improvements in the Bartlett Street area, the Route 33 bridge improvements, lower State Street improvements and the Ceres Street Park.
Even with completing the projects and planning for the future the City Council was able to keep a stable tax rate. This just doesn't happen without good financial planning by the department heads, city manager, School Department, Fire Commission and Police Commission working together with the City Council.
Many communities are not as fortunate as Portsmouth. They may not have had the foresight the city has had in planning not only for the present but looking into the future. The city's glass is certainly half full where other communities are half empty. We are all fortunate to live or work in or visit this fine city.
Peter G. Weeks is a former Portsmouth mayor, City Council member, School Board member and Police Commissioner. He is a lifelong resident of Portsmouth and Rye.