PORTSMOUTH, Va. — For over 30 years, Daniele Cutler has lived in Portsmouth and watched the area near downtown and along the High Street corridor transform.

“A lot of buildings here that have been something and were changed to something else, usually for the better,” Cutler said.

However, resident Mary Barrows said that part of the city needs more attention.

“I definitely know that there are areas that are kind of abandoned or forgotten about," Barros said. "Buildings that are falling apart that need some attention.”

Several empty plots of land make up what the city is now calling the Innovation District. In fact, city staff are currently working on a plan to reinvent those spaces.

“We are trying to create a space where people want to congregate in,” said Brian Swets, the manager of comprehensive and strategic planning, with the city's planning department.

Swets said the Innovation District is a part of the city that is historically underdeveloped and underinvested.

"If you go back and look at pictures from the 50s, it looks like a part of downtown," he said. "Over time, it started to deteriorate. We started to see more... car dealerships and more kind of suburban uses. And now those have kind of petered out."

Swets said they are looking to bring in more businesses and attract young entrepreneurs looking to build up the area.

“That’s when you start seeing innovation starting to go off in different directions,” Swets said.

Swets said the city also received a $19 million federal grant to redo the city’s streetscape along High Street.

“It's going to redo the streetscape from about Chestnut Street to the Martin Luther King connector in the area of High Street where you’ve got two travel lanes in each direction and then a center turn lane," he said. "The idea is to take out a travel lane in each direction and make that turn lane some grassy median whether it's raised or sunken."

Barrows is excited about the plan to invest in her neighborhood. She hopes to see more shops in the area to support artists like herself.

“So that would be really cool to have more arts brought into the area,” Barrows said.

“Businesses for sure. Art, there definitely is a market and look for that," Cutler said. "Things of that nature would be good for the city.”

City staff plan to release the project's first draft by the end of the year. They hope to present a final plan to city council members at the start of 2024.