In October of 2008 members of the Portsmouth Partnership identified several significant challenges facing the Olde Towne section of our city: budget cuts had forced the elimination of the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau; the Olde Towne Business Association lacked funding for a proposed television ad campaign aimed at salvaging its upcoming Christmas selling season; and the advancing recession’s chill winds had blown into all corners of the economic landscape. Several businesses along High Street had either closed or moved.
Having established the area as a Historic District in 2004, the Portsmouth Partnership’s promotions of Roger Brown’s and what is now the Dinwiddie Hotel had complemented other significant Olde Towne projects such as the Renaissance Hotel and Conference Center, Porte Center, the nTelos Wireless Pavilion amphitheater, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, and the now-completed Children’s Museum of Virginia. Clearly, too much had been invested – and too much was at stake – for citizens to stand idly by, watching the recession chew through these hard-won assets.
The Partnership’s response was to convene all of Olde Towne’s stakeholders, from shop and restaurant owners to residents and City officials, in order to take an inventory of the area’s assets and plan a way forward. The immediate action plan included paying the tab for the OTBA’s Christmas campaign, sending available representatives to CVB-related tourism conventions, promoting recurring First Friday and First Saturday Antiques-to-Flea Market events, and creating a twice-monthly Farmers’ Market. A brand-new non-profit affiliate, PortsEvents, was created to administer the effort.
Today, after eight years’ worth of effort including Restaurant Weeks, Pub Crawls, Schooner Days weekends and Downtown Living tours, things are changing, and good things are happening. Major sponsorship support from the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Portsmouth Economic Development Authority, and TowneBank has enabled PortsEvents to focus on two recurring events at the intersection of Court and High Streets: a series of outdoor concerts, known as “Concerts in the Courtyard,” and, from April through November, weekly Farmers’ Markets.
In June of 2012 PortsEvents brought the Opsail2012Virginia celebration to Portsmouth’s downtown waterfront, along with three tall ships and a US Coast Guard cutter. Over a three-day weekend 5,400 visitors toured the visiting ships, free of charge, while Olde Towne’s restaurants nearly burst at the seams with guests. On Monday morning, prior to setting sail, tall ships Gazela, Kalmar Nyckel and Bounty hosted the 225 kids from four of Portsmouth’s elementary schools who participated in the Adopt-A-Ship program, presenting specially-tailored, hands-on educational sessions which illustrated the working principles of sailing ships sail power.