Negative publicity can harm Portsmouth's economy, expert says

Generic beauty shot of Portsmouth
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 18:10:07-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - As the City of Portsmouth continues to see turmoil, the negative publicity could have an impact on the city's economy, according to an expert.

"I think the political turmoil has had some real costs for the city of Portsmouth," said James V. Koch, an economist and former president of Old Dominion University, adding people who see the turmoil may not want to visit the city.

At Blahzay Boutique in Olde Town, owner Shante Hall says she's heard from customers who would rather their clothes get shipped to them rather than come to the city.

"A lot of people don't want to come to the city because they're looking at it like, 'Y'all got crime going on over there and then you got people in your city hall — they're going back and forth with each other,'" she said.

Hall decided to open in Olde Town last August because she considered it a good spot for a clothing boutique that serves women of all sizes, but says foot traffic has slowed some recently.

"I actually love being here, but since August to now I see the difference," she said. "Even in the flow of traffic I see a difference."

The city is now on its third city manager since 2020. This week, the newest City Manager Tonya Chapman fired Police Chief Renado Prince after less than a year on the job.

"It's confusing to the citizens. We really don't understand how they cannot get along," said Kenneth Sawyer, who lives in Churchland. "It's kind of like, 'What are they doing? Where is our value?' They're supposed to be working for the city, for the people."

It's not just the political turmoil. Portsmouth has the highest real estate tax rate of the seven cities. Police department data from late June shows a 29 percent increase in violent crime in the past year, and there's the continued impact of the tolls at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels.

"Portsmouth doesn't lack for challenges, but it also has some pretty good assets," Koch said. "It isn't a hopeless situation by any means, but one I think has a great deal of hope attached to it. They have so much bad publicity now because of political changes and people coming and going that I don't think some people actually recognize the assets that are there."

With three city council seats up for election this November, News 3 political analyst Dr. Eric Claville says residents have a chance to make their voices heard.

"The voters, the residents of that area, have an opportunity to choose the leadership they believe can bring the stability to their great city," Claville said.

At Blahzay, Hall says while the spotlight is on Portsmouth right now, everywhere has their own issues, which she tries to tell her customers.

"My response is that's crazy. Every city has something going on," she said.