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Monday, August 26, 2013


Downtown Portsmouth-Norfolk Tunnel

Virginian Pilot Currents

Even if you don’t expect to be personally inconvenienced by the weekend closings of the Downtown Tunnel or if you really are not concerned about the health of the business community, it’s time for you as an individual citizen to become involved in opposition to the ridiculous situation that allows a contractor to arbitrarily close the westbound lanes for another 22 weekends and then close the eastbound lanes for the next 42 weekends.
   Think abut it. That encompasses far more than a year of lost weekends for many businesses on both sides of the water that depend heavily on weekend spending. Many of them won’t survive. Every business that has to close or has heavy losses will cost you money.
   Tax money from food and drink and other sales taxes adds up and is a vital part of the city budget.
   In the end, Portsmouth citizens will be the losers – either through reduced city services or higher tax bills.
   This is no exaggeration. The decrease in business over the first two weekends the tunnel was closed was more than I expected.
   The Children’s Museum was down 23 percent and the farmers market business was more than half off.
   The restaurants suffered big time. Talk to the owners of Cafe Europa and they will tell you they could never make it if they had to depend on local customers alone.
   Check out Roger Brown’s and you’ll see a huge number of folks from elsewhere. Both of them, gourmet restaurant and sports bar, as well as most other places, have suffered already through the economic downturn. Now they’re hit with the fallout from the tunnel closings just as things were picking up a little.
   There also could be long-term impact because some people will change their habits over the year-and-a-half of weekend tunnel closures and might never come back simply because they have settled into new places to play.
   Some years ago when High Street got a facelift, businesses suffered and some were lost. But, as a friend recently reminded me, at least the High Street work ultimately was beneficial to the community. In fact, it was part of the reason we acquired places like Cafe Europa and Roger Brown’s.
   The tunnel closings that are pulverizing businesses hold no such positive outcomes for Portsmouth.
   A letter writer from Virginia Beach correctly noted in the Pilot last week that twice in the past one tube of the Downtown Tunnel has been closed and that the other tube carried traffic both ways.
   Now the tunnel contractor refuses to do that and, as that letter noted, the excuses are “smoke screens” to keep from spending a small amount of money.
   Remember, this is a state-guaranteed contract with built in profits until 2070.
   Considering the buckets of money they will make, the cost of making the tunnel two-way on weekends would be a mere drop in one of those buckets.
   The terms of the state contract are questionable and the cost of the tolls in the future are another story and beside the point at this time.
   The whole situation reeks.
   There has been some speculation the refusal to modify the tunnel closings is a form of revenge against Portsmouth citizens who questioned the validity of the contract in the courts.
   Certainly the whole deal on the tunnels makes you wonder about the state’s lack of concern about Hampton Roads, even though it’s an important piece of Virginia’s economy.
   The ports, the military and tourism make the area a big contributor.
   But the important thing for us right now is to stay alive through the next year-and-a-half and everybody has to get in the fight.
   What can you do? Everybody must become a squeaking wheel and get on the phone to call people connected to the situation – from the governor right on down, anybody you can think of.
   Maybe if there are enough phone calls from average citizens, somebody might pay attention just to shut us up.
   Two numbers I picked up from the news might give you a start on this very important task:
   Laila Rice, a spokesperson for the contracting company, Elizabeth River Crossings, at 932-4400.
   Lauren Hansen in the Virginia Department of Transportation office, 925-1600.
   If they don’t want to hear from a citizen, ask them who in their offices you should call and get the phone number. This is a very important task that will cost you a few minutes of time now and could save you big bucks in the long run.

This article is re-posted from the Virginian Pilot-

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Public Art Helps Engage Community

John Joyce has headed a beautification committee in Portsmouth for several years. Here, he kneels next to a bronze toad outside the Children's Museum of Virginia on Aug. 1, 2013. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot)

Our Views
A commentary from the Virginian-Pilot 
August 11, 2013

   ART CONFINED to a museum speaks to a select few; public art speaks to everyone. That critical difference says volumes about a place.

   Public art articulates a city’s priorities, its values, its vision for itself. And while beauty will always be in the eyes of the beholder, the mere effort to beautify stands as evidence of a community’s intellectual and aesthetic ambitions.

   That’s why great cities don’t build courthouses or city halls that look like strip malls: Public architecture says something about what a place finds important.

   So, indeed, does public art.

   The Pilot’s Janie Bryant recently detailed new efforts to bring art to Portsmouth’s streets. In a place struggling with pockets of endemic poverty, with constant fiscal difficulties, with a huge infrastructure backlog, art may seem like a low priority for Portsmouth .

   But the Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art have recognized that the mere effort to make the city more beautiful is an example of the kind of civic engagement that helps every place it happens. Because that kind of citizen involvement underlies every effort to move a community forward.

   The group was born with the desire to save a bronze toad, which won hearts at a city sculpture competition. The group raised $8,000 to keep the outsized critter in Portsmouth.

   Naysayers look at the metal amphibian near the Children’s Museum of Virginia and see squandered money and energy that could’ve been spent on other things.

   Children see a nose to rub for luck.

   All the thousands of people who believe in Portsmouth, who believe in what’s possible through hard work and hope, will see the city grow a little brighter as each hand passes over the toad’s nose, as each person finds delight in another unexpected mural, in every surprise sculpture.

   Portsmouth’s future lies with them.

Portsmouth Art Movement Gains Traction

John Joyce has headed a beautification committee in Portsmouth for several years. Here, he kneels next to a bronze toad outside the Children's Museum of Virginia on Aug. 1, 2013. (Hyunsoo Leo Kim | The Virginian-Pilot)

By Janie Bryant

It started two years ago with a toad.
Not just any toad. This was a child-size bronze amphibian entered into Portsmouth's annual outdoor sculpture competition.
Children loved it, warts and all. So did art advocates who were loath to see it leave the city. So they raised about $8,000, and the toad now squats permanently outside the Children's Museum of Virginia.
That push gave birth to the Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art, a growing group of art lovers who have made it their mission to preserve and spread art throughout the city.
"Not just downtown," said John Joyce, president of the Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art. "Not just midtown."
It's a trend of beautification that has taken off in cities across the country, a natural offshoot of downtown revitalization efforts, according to Nancy Perry, Portsmouth's director of museums.
Norfolk established a public art program in 2006. Since then, the city has spent about $2 million on an array of projects, including an elephant sculpture at the Virginia Zoo and art along the light-rail route.
Public art is something Joyce always looks for when he travels. His favorites are works that have "a little bit of humor," he said.
Barbara Vincent, an artist who is part of the effort, also takes note of what other cities do.
"Thoughts Running Like a River" by Pattie Porker Firestone is in the Portsmouth Art and 
Cultural Center Courtyard on Aug. 1, 2013 (Photo by Hyunsoo Leo Kim/ The Virginian-Pilot)

"We want to make it clear to people that we're not just going to buy sculpture and plop it in front of buildings," said Vincent, who owned an art gallery in Olde Towne for several years.
Public art can be anything from whimsical bike racks and park benches to murals, she and Joyce said. In some cities, Vincent has even seen crosswalks painted as public art.
"If you improve the way your environment looks, it will improve your sensibilities," she said.
Joyce and Vincent are Olde Towne residents who are active in the community: For several years, Joyce has headed a beautification committee that has improved and maintained medians and parks in the city's oldest neighborhood. Vincent is a former chairwoman of the Museum and Fine Arts Commission. Joyce was on the commission, too.
The Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art is largely made up of people who have worked behind the scenes to build the city's art offerings. In addition to Joyce and Vincent, who are longtime patrons of the arts, Sue Landerman, a Portsmouth sculptor whose work on brick can be seen at universities and schools all over the country, is a member. Landerman sculpted the bronze statue of Col. William Crawford, the founder of Portsmouth, at High and Crawford streets.

Malani Green, 3 of Hampton, checks out the bronze toad in front of the Children's Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth on Aug. 1 2013 (photo by Hyunsoo Leo Kim/ the Virginian-Pilot)

Other members, including retired Pilot reporter and columnist Ida Kay Jordan, give Landerman credit for efforts to save the Al Hirschfeld-style mural from The Circle, a 1940s restaurant that was slated for demolition.
The organization plans to work with the city to help its civic leagues and other groups use art to enhance neighborhoods and schools. And it has come on the scene at a good time: New City Manager John Rowe is a believer in the power of art to make a city appear welcoming.
"It's a concept and an idea that John is really pushing people to embrace," Perry said.
Perry has attended meetings of the nonprofit as a city liaison. She's also getting direction from Rowe on projects he wants the city to undertake, such as art wraps to cover downtown's aesthetically challenged signal boxes.
The city is working with artists on two murals on public buildings downtown.
The nonprofit is also focusing on murals, working with Sam Welty, the artist behind Cedar Grove Cemetery's mural of the Battle of Craney Island. Supporters have identified about eight private buildings that would provide a good canvas.
"Everybody is working collaboratively for this overall vision of betterment of their community," Perry said.
Joyce said the organization will be seeking city approval for a mural on the side of a commercial building that can be seen from the atrium of the Children's Museum.
It isn't the first time Joyce has pitched the idea of putting art closer to the people: He was on the Museum and Fine Arts Commission when members were brainstorming ways to get more people into the city's arts center.
The center is housed in the 1846 Courthouse, a building with plenty of architectural dignity but one that didn't shout "there's art in here now."
Joyce suggested bringing the art outside to the people. The idea sparked the sculpture competition that has continued to transform the courtyard of the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center into an outdoor exhibit several months of the year. That brought lots of public art to that corner of downtown.
And, eventually, it brought the toad.
And then public art took a leap in Portsmouth.
Janie Bryant, 757-446-2453,
This article is reprinted by permission from the Virginian-Pilot.