June 29, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Bright lights, big city
By Dan Szczesny

What a mess.

The latest example of how not to handle growing pains was most recently illustrated in the reaction by residents, businesses, and the city itself, to the opening of a new sports bar on South Main Street.

After months of renovation, Andy Sanborn’s new restaurant and sports bar, The Draft, opened at 67 South Main Street. The former site of Banagan’s Bike Shop is now embroiled in a controversy over noise and disorderly conduct. The place has been open less than a month.

It might only be one sports bar, but it is a perfect magnifying glass through which to study the extent to which Concord is neither ready for or able to competently able to deal with coming growth.

Way back when the bar was approved by the city, it was given a number of variances to even allow it to be built. Of primary importance, the city waved the zoning law requiring a certain amount of parking spaces based on occupancy. In the case of The Draft, which has a capacity for 300 customers, the city waved a requirement for 88 parking spaces. Obviously, the sports club would not have been able to open at that location without that variance. (Currently, The Draft has 7 spaces.) The reason the city did this is proper, and obvious – a bar like The Draft offers Concord a tremendous opportunity for economic growth, both in financial terms but also in opening the downtown to nightlife, something that is severely lacking. Give people stuff to do, and they will live nearby. If they want to live nearby they will work nearby. Then, developers may start becoming interested in filling up those empty buildings downtown instead building condos in the suburbs.

As for those downtown neighbors who complain about the noise, well, you do live downtown after all. Noise, light and people-free downtowns exist only in troubled cities.

Now, certainly people urinating on the sides of buildings and other unruly behavior should not fall under the umbrella of lively downtown. It should, however, fall under the umbrella of enforcement.

But guess what? In an effort to mollify tax payers, city councilors this year decided to eliminate two vacant police officer positions. That means the canine program and the neighborhood planning program will disappear.

So basically, after waving important zoning in order to allow the sports bar to be built, city councilors then turned around and declined to provide for the proper enforcement and maintenance needed to manage such growth. And on top of it all, the very residents and businesses who support tax cuts at any cost, now complain because the cost is a little more noise and a little more bright lights.

As old, proud and steeped in tradition and history as Concord is, the city has a lot of growing up to do. People are coming and that’s a good thing. There will be more places like The Draft looking to open, and next year, when Red River Theatre opens downtown, just watch the people pour in. City officials need to manage that growth more efficiently, and that doesn’t just mean slashing budgets. And residents need to start appreciating what they have, before they have nothing.


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