August 10, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Make downtown a priority
By†Dan Szczesny

Every city has a public face, and Concordís is changing rapidly.

City officials, local business owners and residents have only to decide whether that change, a result of growth and high quality of life, will make Concord a more pleasant place to be, or will create downtown to avoid.

First, letís all get on the same page. Everyplace has a mall. Everyplace has sprawl and everyplace has fast food. Sure those places add to the tax base, and city officials often trip over each other on the way to approving such development because, hey, a mall means big money to the city tax coffers. Fair enough. Just try to drive down Loudon Road around 5 p.m. and you get the picture.

But Loudon Road is not Concordís face. Downtown is. The vibrancy of Concordís downtown ought to be of prime importance to anyone wishing to encourage people to move to, live in or shop in Concord.

Few seem to care when a strip development takes over a section of town on the outskirts. In fact, more often than not planners will simply throw up their hands and open the gates. Theyíve done the same thing in Manchester along South Willow Street. Trust me when I say there are no more willows on South Willow Street.

My point is two-fold. First, people should, and many do, care passionately about Concordís downtown. Without it, Concord just becomes Bow or Hooksett.

Second, itís incumbent upon the merchants fortunate enough to be downtown to remain involved, active and educated about their city, and the changes happening around them.

And now we've come full circle, because Concord is changing dramatically.

Weíve written quite a bit about Capitol Commons in these pages, and for good reason. The soon-to-be-open theater and office plaza will forever alter the complexion of South Main Street.

But thereís more evidence of a Concord boom. A recent story in the Concord Monitor went to great lengths to compare new development downtown with businesses that have closed in the last year and the difference is startling. Despite the closure of some downtown long-time mainstays like Fickett Jewelers and Fineís clothing store, the storefronts are being swallowed up quicker than Granite State Candies ice cream on a hot day.

But in the rush to celebrate the good fortune of downtown Concord, here are some warnings:

ē Donít forget the upper floors. Far too many of those streetfront properties are sitting below empty, abandoned buildings. City officials and downtown organizations like Main Street Concord need to do a better job shopping those spaces around. Office space and downtown residential options are vital to long-term growth.

ē Donít abandon history. It looks as though Hawaiian Isle, the landmark, kitsch-tacular restaurant, along with a Movie Gallery, will be torn down to make way for a CVS. How uncreative. Want another CVS? Fine. Put it on Loudon Road.

ē Donít be stuffy. Bars and clubs and music is okay. Really. Give young people a reason to come here, or stay here, and they will shop, eat your food, buy your property and maybe someday open their own business


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