PR Frenzy Revvs Up Before Next Wed’s Key HDC Harborcorp Votes

Orchestrated “enthusiasm” for giant buildings is revving up before next Wed’s (June 10, 6:30 pm) Historic District Commission public hearing and key votes on Harborcorp. Long as two football fields, the megadevelopment wants HDC  permission to sprawl undivided across three city lots and tower over the 45-foot height limit.

A well-funded PR effort on behalf of development and related interests is trying to sell the unsustainably large project as a way to get a “green” grocery store downtown, and lots of parking  for up to 1,400 conference-goers, 98 hotel rooms and luxury condos. Folks who want smarter, more human scale growth say that’s just smoke and mirrors. Worried residents predict the behemoth will wall off the North End from the downtown, usurp up more public parking because it doesn’t provide enough for its own needs and choke up traffic.

“It’s just too damn big,” one said.

“I wonder what the [grocery store] marketing departtment would say about their trade name being used to sell such an unsustainably huge project,” another wondered aloud.

HOW TO HELP: You can ask the HDC to do its job and encourage more moderate growth in keeping with our pretty historic downtown (whose character it’s supposed to protect so all the tourist dollars keep coming). Just email the HDC via and hope they pay attention.

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry it would wall off Maplewood

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and tower over the 45-foot height limit

3 thoughts on “PR Frenzy Revvs Up Before Next Wed’s Key HDC Harborcorp Votes

  1. Bob Shouse

    As your past performances have shown you will most likely lose this battle in favor of the developers. Good luck but I am not optimistic that any thing will change and the building will be built as shown. You have to admit Portwalk did not turn out so bad.

    PN responds: Bob— This is not about factions winning or losing. The citizens and taxpayers of Portsmouth are losing. We have let our downtown Historic District be overrun by cheap-looking stick-built hotels that don’t provide adequate parking,and oversized luxury condos. All this new development has not paid its fair share, as development does in most other New England cities. Even Dover, Somersworth, and Rochester require impact fees for developments’ impact on future water and (most importantly) sewer costs. Yet here in Portsmouth, we allow huge, 24/7 water users to build Class C buildings without asking for a dime in impact fees as allowed by state law. Now, our poor city ratepayers are seeing huge increases in their water and sewer rates. They are being asked to foot the bill for a parking garage. Why? To satisfy the needs of Anywhere, USA-style building complexes like Portwalk and a huge new convention center complex that is only being required to provide 523 parking spaces for up to 1,400 conferees, a 40,000 sq. ft. supermarket, 98 more hotel rooms and luxury condos. We are squandering our assets. And who is winning? Not the taxpayers, and not the city’s historic character. Shame on us.

  2. Duncan MacCallum

    So, I’m costing the City at least $700,000 in tax revenue by taking an appeal of the Harborcorp decision, am I? That’s what Harborcorp’s publicity director Paul Young says, at least. (“Attorney to appeal HDC approval of HarborCorp,” Portsmouth Herald, 6/26/15, p. A3.) Sounds pretty far-fetched to me, but if such a distinguished man as Mr. Young says it, then I guess it must be true.

    What Mr. Young has failed to mention, however, is that sooner or later–and mostly sooner–the alleged $700,000 in tax revenue is going to be outpaced by the increased costs to the taxpayers in the form of the additional municipal services which that project is going to require, once it is completed. Unless you factor in the cost of those additional services, any discussion of the benefits of that $700,000 in tax revenue is meaningless.

    Any middle school algebra student will tell you that if you make a change on one side of an equation, then you have to make the same change on the other side. To say that a project is going to generate $700,000 in tax revenue without any discussion of the increased costs that go hand-in-hand with that revenue is like changing a variable on one side of an equation without changing it on the other side. It’s like increasing the numerator of a fraction without increasing the denominator. It’s faulty logic, bad math, and flawed reasoning.

    The Harborcorp project is, indeed, a losing proposition for the taxpayer. The reason is that the commercial businesses which are spawned by such projects as this are the primary consumers of municipal services, and they eat up all of the additional tax revenue which they generate and more so. Every year, the police chief and the fire chief defend their requests for budget increases for their departments by pointing out that the influx of additional businesses, tourists, hotel guests, and new residents in the downtown area necessitates the hiring of additional personnel and/or the expenditure of additional man hours and overtime pay. (For example, see “Fire Department seeking to increase budget by 3 percent,” Portsmouth Herald, 2/6/15, p. A3.) The overall fiscal pattern of these massive new downtown projects over the past ten years has been akin to that of a Ponzi scheme. We approve the construction of these monstrosities in order to generate additional tax revenue today, but tomorrow we have to pay for the additional municipal services that those projects necessitate, and so we approve yet more development projects in order to generate yet more tax revenue to try to balance the budget once again.

    It is for that reason that over the course of the past 10-15 years the city budget has increased at double the rate of inflation and that this year it broke the $100 million mark for the first time–far more than that of any comparably sized city in New Hampshire. Mark Brighton, who is the president of the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers, and such people as my friend David Kish, its vice president, are much better at crunching the numbers than I am, but I would not be surprised in the slightest if the Harborcorp project ultimately costs the taxpayers well over $1 million annually in the form of the additional municipal services which, directly or indirectly, are going to be occasioned by it.

    By the way, Mr. Young’s figure of $700,000 is wrong, anyway. That’s not the amount of new tax revenue that will be brought in solely by construction of the sterile new fortress which is the Harborcorp project. The correct figure is more like $450,000. The way that Mr. Young arrives at his $700,000 figure is by taking into account the property taxes on the entire finished complex including the existing Sheraton Hotel, which serves as the anchor for the project but which has already been built and, in fact, has been standing for two decades. When the tax revenue that is already coming in from the Sheraton Hotel is disregarded, the $700,000 figure supposedly representing new revenue is drastically lower.

    It has been rightly said that a fool and his money are soon parted, and the City of Portsmouth is being played the fool by the proponents of the Harborcorp project. That project is ultimately going to cost the taxpayers far more than it is ever going to generate in the form of tax revenue. When I hear such things as the accusation that I am costing the City at least $700,000 by appealing the approval of that project, and when I’m informed that there are citizens and city officials who actually believe such propaganda, I can see why P.T. Barnum said that there’s a sucker born every minute.

    Duncan MacCallum

  3. Anne Donaldson

    I am proud of your continuing fight to set the record straight regarding Mr. Young,s efforts to try to persuade the citizens that Harborcorp will be a taxpayer,s win. Again, let,s take into account the extra services and personnel needed … Fire, police, sewer and water, roads, etc.


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