New businesses, Old Towne define Portsmouth waterfront
January 01, 2008 1:01 AM

by Joan Tupponce

With the largest redevelopment project in its history under way, Portsmouth is reshaping its waterfront in a move expected to bring more business and visitors to the historic port city. 

Situated in the heart of Hampton Roads on the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth offers everything from Olde Towne Lantern Tours with guides in period costumes to concerts from top entertainers at the nTelos Pavilion. The $158 million downtown project eventually will add a high-rise tower and new offices, apartments, shops and restaurants.

The newest business on the waterfront, a $450 million marine terminal, opened in November. Built by APM Terminals Virginia, the 291-acre terminal is the third largest container terminal in the United States.

The sleek skyline that will rise during the next few years will be juxtaposed against the quaint beauty of the Olde Towne Historic District. The area’s tree-lined streets are dotted with restaurants, museums and restored homes. The 1-square-mile district contains several historic homes. Many with intricate ironwork and second-floor balconies evoke images of cities such as Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans.

Walking around the district is easy and educational, especially if you follow the Path of History. The path links the Naval Medical Center and the Naval Shipyard, two of the country’s oldest Navy facilities, and includes stops at many of the district’s historic buildings and places of worship. Horse-drawn carriage rides are available for those who want a nostalgic experience.

Portsmouth combines old and new on the entertainment front, as well. The art-deco Commodore Theatre, built in the mid-1940s, shows first-run films throughout the year with the added bonus of menu items such as pizza, sandwiches and dessert. Guests are served at cozy tables in the back of the theater. Just down the street is the nTelos Pavilion at Harbor Center, where you’ll find major concert events from April through October.

The city’s economy

APM Terminals Virginia will serve as an economic engine for new business in the city. As of October, the city’s largest employer was the Norfolk Naval Shipyard followed by the Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth.

Other major employers include the City of Portsmouth, Portsmouth City Public Schools, Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, the U.S. Fifth District Coast Guard Command, Alternative Behavioral Services, Earl Industries, Gwaltney of Smithfield and Portsmouth Marine Terminal — Virginia Inter­national Terminals Inc.


Each month Portsmouth hosts a series of events known as Olde Towne First! On First Friday, visitors can stroll through local art galleries in Olde Towne. On First Saturday, it’s everything from antiques to flea markets, and on First Sunday (except December) the Courthouse Galleries museum offers a free program.

Favorite annual events include January’s Carnevale, the June-through-September Olde Town Lantern Tours, June’s Seawall Festival, October’s Olde Towne Ghost Walk and December’s Winter Wonderland in Olde Towne: The Coleman Collection, with several hundred animated figures.

Where to eat

Finding a great meal isn’t difficult in Portsmouth. The city has a variety of dining options. If you’re a seafood or steak lover, head to either Lobscouser at 337 High St., one of the oldest restaurants in Olde Towne, or Brutti’s at 467 Court St. Brutti’s is known for its extensive wine list and BagelNutz — bagel dough stuffed with cream cheese.

If it’s Mediterranean cuisine you crave, try Café Europa at 319 High St. And, if you’re in the mood for some down-home Southern cooking, check out one of Portsmouth’s newest restaurants, Comfort (a sister to the Richmond location) at 725 High St.

Where to stay

Places to stay in the city include the waterfront Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel & Waterfront Conference Center on Water Street and the Hawthorn Hotel & Suites at The Governor Dinwiddie, a refurbished 1940s art-deco hotel on High Street. Bed and breakfasts include The Patriot Inn Bed & Breakfast, which dates back to 1784.

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