March 2, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Thinking big
By Dan Szczesny

Concord has not really seen a decline in construction or development for about a decade. And that trend continues today. In fact, just a cursory glance around the city will illustrate just how many big-ticket projects are happening: Capital Commons, Penacook Mill, the old Blue Cross building, Concord Heights Community Center and the Concord Hospital expansion, to name a few.

Some are private, some are public, some are jointly developed, but they all have a lot to do with a city that is growing more aware of its role in plotting out its own future.

All too often, officials take a hands- off approach to development, leaving the growth of a city to market forces. But there’s another side to city hall, beyond fixing potholes and making sure the garbage is removed. Instead of keeping developers and the private sector at arm's length, Concord should take an active role in what the city will be like five, ten or even 50 years from now.

The good news is that Concord officials appear to understand this.
The former Blue Cross building development on Pillsbury Street is an example of this. Though this is primarily a private-sector project by developer Steve Duprey, the city nonetheless waived impact fees as incentive to developers and helped with infrastructure issues like traffic studies. Now, the former 120,000-square-foot eyesore is nearing completion and already has a list of tenants like the Eye Center of New Hampshire, the NH Bar Association, Sanders Family Medicine, a dentist and a fitness facility ready to move in.

The $12 million complex is scheduled to open in mid-May.

There will always be details to quibble about, and sometimes if those details are not ironed out, like the parking issues surrounding the Capitol Commons project, they can actually hurt current local stores just trying to get by. But at least, this time, finally, there appears to be progress on that project as well. Concrete on that project began to pour a couple weeks ago, and the city council stepped up this week and added a dozen new parking spaces to streets around the construction site. The move came after weeks of petitioning by area business owners who feared for their economic lives.

There’s only a small amount of parking spaces at issue here, but it shows that, at the very least, the city recognizes the important connection between the smaller destinations, like Gibson's Book Store and the Concord Co-op, and the larger new project. The larger project should not swallow up the smaller businesses.

The key here is to make the city a viable and cost-effective place for developers and businesses to thrive while maintaining the look of the neighborhoods and livelihood of current businesses and residents. It’s not easy, but so far Concord is on the right track

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