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Monday, November 17, 2014

The Portsmouth Town Center, a.k.a. The Martings Building



Jason Kester, the Director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA), tells us that the Marting's Building is now known as the Portsmouth Town Center. 

Portsmouth City Council has authorized Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen to enter into a three-year contract with SOPA, pledging $25,000 a year as its share of SOPA’s budget to make that organization the city’s primary economic development arm.

The Portsmouth Daily Times reports ...

"The one building that has had a polarizing effect on the city and specifically Portsmouth City Council is the building known as the former Marting’s property.

“'We also need a plan to increase the occupancy of the buildings downtown from Fifth/Third building to the former Martings property to the vacant buildings along Chillicothe Street. We’re looking at every building downtown – and we’re open to ideas,' Kester said. 'I am trying to find investors who are interested in developing downtown and I’ve had contact with a couple consultants who have provided some insight. We don’t know what the problem is – so it’s difficult to know how to fix the problem. The Portsmouth Town Center is the largest vacant property – but it’s not the only vacant building.'”

(Frank Lewis and Wayne Allen. " "SOPA working to develop downtown Portsmouth.  
Portsmouth Daily Times. November 17, 2014)

Kester says SOPA doesn't have "a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses – so it’s a challenge to know how to develop the property." The Port Authority is gathering information on all of the buildings and will hopefully be able to develop a plan in coordination with the other property owners downtown to spur growth and development.

Now, I'm not a consultant, yet I believe the problem with the property now known as the "Portsmouth Town Center" is evident. It is a huge, aging, department store property owned by the City of Portsmouth that sits in the middle of a downtown void of a vibrant retail shopping trade. It is the Lazarus of Portsmouth that remains an empty edifice memorializing a bygone era.

The Town Center has become a metaphoric albatross that continues to hang around the neck of city government. The entire epic of the acquisition of the property by the city and their efforts for well over a decade to remodel it or to sell it have left an indelible bad taste in the mouths of taxpayers. "Vacant" is an apt description of both the minds of those who procured the property and of any investment plan for future use.

How does the city "fix" the "problem"? The "problem" should not have been created in the first place; however, "fixing" the remains may require a project for which the city has insufficient funds. An old axiom of construction is that remodeling and renovation is often more expensive than starting from scratch. I think the city has learned that lesson.

Portsmouth seems to have been victimized by bad judgment concerning proper renovation. Many residents still mourn the loss of a historic railway terminal in town and often wonder why a plan for a major facelift of that property was abandoned.

Yes, polarization haunts Chillicothe Street just as it lingers in other areas of the city. It stems from memories of an energetic past when bright city lights once drew happy shoppers in droves to something residents called "Downtown Portsmouth."

Over the years the crowds found little to buy and even less to afford as major retail business after major retail business closed. Skeletons of the thriving businesses were all that was left to occupy the downtown real estate, and an occasional small store still reopens in there to operate as little more than a reminder of a glorious city retail exchange.

SOPA, it takes real materials and real innovation to make abandoned real estate "come alive." Time changes everything, and dreams cannot be built on false promises and speculation. Dreams can only be realized by positive industry guided by gifted thinkers.

"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions 
stems the dream again; and this interdependence 
produces the highest form of living." 

 --Anais Nin

The "strengths and weaknesses" of which you speak lie within humans. Bricks, mortar, wood, nails -- these are merely materials used by those who construct dreams with their great foresight and imagination. It is folly to begin fruitless enterprises just to occupy space. And, it may be important to consider the possibility that grandiose structures have outgrown their utility and their appeal.

Good luck with your "study" of primary economic development as it relates to downtown Portsmouth. How do you inject life into an area that has been guilty of "beating a dead horse"? I don't really know, but I do know why some mistakes of the past can only be erased with novel thinking and fresh actions.


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