Rethinking Downtown Portsmouth Summit

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Key Facts

Location: Portsmouth, OH

Partners: Scioto Foundation and multiple community stakeholders

Summary: The Scioto Foundation brought together a broad group of community stakeholders to discuss and brainstorm a vision for the future of Downtown Portsmouth. The foundation promises to support subsequent projects that fit into this vision.


In April 2019, the Scioto Foundation brought together community leaders for a two-day community strategic planning session for downtown Portsmouth. The “Rethinking Downtown Portsmouth” summit sought to create a vision for downtown Portsmouth and to identify preliminary steps that could be taken to achieve that vision.

Portsmouth is one of Ohio’s smallest legacy cities with a population of about 20,000 residents. What Portsmouth lacks in size, it makes up for in history. On the confluence of the Ohio River and Scioto River in Southern Ohio, Portsmouth’s population boomed from its founding in 1803 thanks to its growth in industry and commerce, peaking at just over 42,000 residents in 1930. But Portsmouth, just like its peers around the state and country, has struggled in recent years as it has lost larger employers, dealt with opiate addiction, and lost population. Median household income is roughly half the national median income, 35% of residents are in poverty, and the labor force participation rate is about 15 percent below the national rate.

If you were to just look at the statistics for the city, however, you would miss the many impressive steps the city and its leaders are taking to revitalize this riverside community. Leaders at Shawnee State and the Southern Ohio Medical Center are already deeply invested in the Portsmouth community and are tackling issues such as opiate addiction and talent retention.

The Rethinking Downtown Portsmouth summit was an exercise in strengthening this civic infrastructure.

The summit brought together a wide range of individuals, including economic development officials, philanthropy, education leaders, city employees, local businesspeople, and more. The diverse group engaged in a multitude of exercises to develop a vision for what the future of Downtown Portsmouth could look like.

Subgroups discussed a wide range of goals including:

  • Increasing communication and collaboration within the community

  • Ensuring a safe and affordable housing stock

  • Creating opportunities for employment for underserved populations

  • Creating a unified marketing and branding campaign for the City

  • Connecting Shawnee State and Downtown Portsmouth

  • Improving options for walking and biking

The result of these subgroup discussions is a blueprint for change in the community. Although not a fully-fleshed out plan, the results guide future investments within the city. The deep and diverse input from a variety of community members give this blueprint the share-ownership it needs.

The Scioto Foundation pledges up to $100,000 in grants for feasibility studies and direct project support for grant requests that are related to the outcomes of the summit. The foundation hopes this commitment attracts additional investment in the community. GOPC applauds the Scioto Foundation for committing not only financial resources to Portsmouth’s urban core, but also to bringing together a wide range of community players to create this blueprint.

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