Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth I. Wright delivered his inaugural State of the City address in front of a crowd of nearly 400 on April 20 at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel & Waterfront Conference Center. Wright took office in November 2010.
The mayor’s tone was optimistic, hopeful and encouraging. “Portsmouth is a community blessed by great resources and potential-from its citizen leaders to its outstanding business community,” declared the mayor. “We enjoy a regional location that has, in the past, and will continue to provide great opportunity.”
Mayor Wright’s call to action was made clear. “I have promised to concentrate on three areas that are essential to our city’s success: economic development, education and community,” said the mayor. “Like an athlete in a triathlon, our city must succeed in all three to win overall.”
The mayor praised the many successes the city has accomplished this past year. “Working together, we have made progress on many fronts,” he said. Portsmouth Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services ordered five new fire trucks and two new battalion vehicles. Also, the average response time for fire calls has decreased by 3.11% and fire prevention programs and public outreach increased by 200%. The department partnered with Tidewater Community College this year to initiate the department’s first Emergency Medical Services Educational Assistance Pilot Program, which offers tuition assistance for those interested in seeking to advance their EMS certification. He congratulated two members of the department who were nationally certified as Incident Safety Officers and Health and Safety Officers.
Another achievement Mayor Wright discussed was the efforts to relocate Portsmouth’s aging courts facilities to a new location. “The move is intended to address problems caused by the courthouse facilities ‘deteriorating physical condition and to clear valuable waterfront property for tax revenue producing redevelopment opportunities,” he said. The courthouse complex is expected to be completed in September 2012.
The proposed widening of the Panama Canal was also a key topic on the mayor’s agenda. “Widening of the Panama Canal has the potential to increase international shipping business for the cargo facilities owned by the Virginia Port Authority which includes the Portsmouth Marine Terminal,” said the mayor. The Virginia Port Authority and Army Corps of Engineers are planning to develop a 520-acre marine cargo terminal on Craney Island. “Current estimates for the project include the creation of 1,176 jobs with annual wages of $36.7 million,” declared the mayor.
The mayor announced that Tidewater Community College will be opening its new School of Retail in Portsmouth next fall. “The collaboration between our city and Tidewater Community College and the construction of the School of Retail will assist in developing our city’s image,” he said. Another image booster will be the opening of the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth on May 26. “With an additional 12,000 square feet, the all new Children’s Museum of Virginia will be the largest children’s museum in the State,” acknowledged the mayor.
While the mayor recognized the many successes of the city, he also addressed issues that need assistance. “We must invest in education, in the innovations industries, in the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy, and in the infrastructure that supports it all with projects such as Patriots Crossing and the Midtown Tunnel,” he said. “We must reduce the cost of doing business in Portsmouth and let everyone know Portsmouth is open for business.”
Mayor Wright emphasized the importance of the education of future generations. “We can’t be satisfied until a great school is within reach of every young person in Portsmouth,” he declared. “We must find ways to invest in public schools, from early education to public universities, because young people get their chance now….” He encouraged the audience and the city of Portsmouth to take more active roles in children’s education. “It is up to us to ensure that our youth are shooting for the stars, not shooting each other,” declared the mayor. “It is up to us to ensure that our young people are driven to excel in life, not sitting in a cell for life.”
The mayor ended his speech encouraging all residents of Portsmouth to take action and work together to achieve common goals. “I challenge us all to turn to each other, not on each other,” he said. “The state of our city has promise, and by working together, we shall fulfill the promise.”
After the speech, Maurice Jones, President and Publisher of the Virginian-Pilot, presented the mayor with an award congratulating IC Norcom’s high school basketball team for winning the state championship two years in a row. Jones currently serves as Chair-Elect for the Chamber.
Thank you to series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Gold), Cox Communications (Media), and Farm Fresh (Silver).