May 18, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: A tale of two cities
By Jody Reese

OK, Mr. and Mrs. Queen City, let’s say you’re sick of hearing about this whole Manchester revitalization thing. What has it done for you?

You don’t fly anywhere, so you’re tired of hearing about the airport. You don’t follow minor league hockey or baseball, so you have little use for the Verizon Wireless Arena or the new riverside baseball stadium.

You couldn’t care less about downtown now that McQuade’s is gone. You don’t have kids in the schools, so you don’t give a hoot about the $100 million in improvements.

What has revitalization done for you, other than raise your property taxes?

To you, it’s all a bunch of hooey—local politicians putting on airs and spending your money to act like big shots. For city officials, revitalization is a big distraction from their basic responsibilities.

Shouldn’t our local leaders concentrate on keeping the streets clean instead of risking public money in ventures such as the stadium development business?

Well, no. Not if you believe that one of city government’s basic responsibilities is to help ensure a healthy local economy. That’s how I see it, and it’s also how things are done in most U.S. cities where anything promising is happening.

This requires that the city be involved in long-term (and seemingly big-money) efforts to improve Manchester’s quality of life. This in turn keeps the city’s economy humming, which brings benefits to everyone.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at Nashua, where city officials have generally taken a hands-off approach to revitalization. A major high school construction project was recently completed, but no other public projects are currently on the drawing board.

Now check out a recent “New Hampshire Office Market” report issued by CB Richard Ellis / New England, a major commercial real estate firm. The contrast could hardly be more stark:

“The story of this year’s Interstate 93 / Route 3 Corridor office market is a tale of two cities, Manchester and Nashua. Nashua’s vacancy rate increased from 14.8 percent in 2004 to 19.8 percent in 2005. On the other hand, Manchester experienced a decrease in vacancy for the third consecutive year, starting at 17.5 percent in 2003, to 12.8 percent in 2004, and down to 9.8 percent in 2005.

“The decrease in vacancy in Manchester can be attributable to the recent improvements in infrastructure and cultural attractions to the downtown business district ... These changes have led businesses in other towns like Bedford to relocate to downtown Manchester.”

So Manchester is gaining ground, in part because city leaders such as Ray Wieczorek, Bob Baines and others acted on bold plans to revitalize it. This requires the city to play a role, but the long-term payoff is immense. Even if you don’t use the airport or shop downtown, you benefit from these improvements.

How? Do the math. Imagine how much more you’d have to pay in property taxes if business was leaving town instead of coming here, and property values were declining. The difference would be substantial.

So revitalization is important to Manchester’s economic future, and it really must continue. Otherwise, we risk becoming nothing more than, say, a slightly larger version of Nashua. And who needs that?.


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