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A sense of place

Portsmouth preserves its history while making changes

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Print this page by Elizabeth Cooper

Dana Dickens was dining at a Hampton Roads restaurant when his server mentioned that she was moving to Charlotte, N.C., to hunt for a job. The recent college graduate had never been to Charlotte, but friends had told her it was a “cool place,” especially compared with Hampton Roads, which she described as “slow and stodgy.” 

While others might have chuckled over the less than flattering portrayal of the region, Dickens took her comments to heart. As president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, much of his time is spent convincing companies that the area is a great place to live and do business. “The fact of the matter is Charlotte is a cool place, but Hampton Roads is a cool place, too,” he says. “There are very few places that have the beach and water and cultural opportunities that we have in Hampton Roads, but we just don’t appreciate what we have.”

Dickens and other leaders want to create a sense of place in the region and among its residents. “You can have all the great and wonderful jobs in the world, but if you don’t have a place where people want to live, what have you got? The idea is to figure out ways to promote the assets of the region to our cities as well as to folks outside the region.”

A sense of place is a big part of what makes Portsmouth unique, says Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright. “Portsmouth is a great place to live and work and is the centerpiece of Hampton Roads,” he adds.  The city includes a historic downtown, a recently revamped highly acclaimed children’s museum, spruced up neighborhoods, a fully accredited school system and new commercial developments. Its primary challenge, according to Wright, is preserving its history while undergoing changes. “You don’t want to lose your sense of place.”

Portsmouth is tackling several major construction projects. The Portsmouth Judicial Center, a $78 million courts complex, is scheduled for completion in September 2012. Moving the courts and judicial offices to Port Centre One near the downtown tunnel will free up valuable waterfront property.  Another plan to develop valuable waterfront acreage — the former site of a Holiday Inn hotel — is on hold because the developer has been unable to secure funding. Wright says if the current developer is unable to proceed with the project, the city will find someone else. Plans call for building mixed-use space, including apartments, condominiums and a Class A office building. “There’s a real need in this city and in the region to have those types of properties,” Wright says.

Meanwhile, plans are moving along to build Victory Village, a mixed-use development near the new Tidewater Community College campus. Construction on the first phase, a 132-unit apartment complex, is scheduled to start this summer. Another major redevelopment project is still in the early stages. City Center at Midtown would be a combination of offices, shops, apartments and an expanded Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center campus. 

Wright says these projects will strengthen both the city and the region and help enhance that sense of place. “Portsmouth offers its part,” he adds. “We’re not Norfolk. We’re not Virginia Beach, but we can complement the things they do and bring people to our region.”


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