December 7, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: War on bars
By†Jody Reese

Penucheís Ale House is the latest Manchester bar business to face tough treatment from city government. From former mayor Bob Baines to current Mayor Frank Guinta, bars have become an easy political target.

Many feel that Manchester has too many bars and that these bars hurt our quality of life. Recently, in a report suggesting the city not grant Penucheís an entertainment license, deputy police chief Gary Simmons moralized that a beer house would be a poor neighbor to the Palace Theatre. The Palace is already across the street from O.K. Parkerís, a pub.

In trying to revitalize the city and especially downtown, should city government favor one type of business over another?

The story of urban renewal, from Boston to Philadelphia to New York, has been city governments getting rid of bars and strip clubs and replacing them with Starbucks, the Gap, fine restaurants and boutiques.

Part of the reason for this is that baby boomers want the hum of city life without all the rattle of living or visiting cities. Philadelphia has become a magnet for retiring baby boomers who want the art scene, restaurants, but not the crime or drunk 20-somethings that once were the province of downtowns.

Is this what Manchesterís city government is up to?

If it is, then itís doing an absolutely horrible job. It has not made clear to the business community what kind of businesses it wants downtown. It doesnít provide any tax benefits to those businesses. Itís as if city government is just pushing out one type of business without pulling new types of businesses in.

Our mayor and aldermen need to put together a plan for developing downtown. The master plan and Intownís plans donít count. This plan needs to be one backed by tax breaks and an activist development director or a revamped role for Intown that includes business development. This plan then needs to be made public to developers, small business owners and anyone else who might think to run a business downtown.

If Mayor Frank Guinta and the aldermen canít get that done, then they need to end their attack on the bars and let the market decide what businesses will succeed downtown. City government canít have it both ways. By killing off bars and doing nothing else, city government risks destroying any business downtown. This will hurt real estate values and property tax revenues.

***

Joann Webber, an owner of Lowell Spinners and New Hampshire Fisher Cats and wife of co-owner Drew Webber, died of pancreatic cancer last Wednesday, Nov. 29. Joann became ill just as she and her husband had started the Fisher Cats. Hippo owner Jeff Rapsis and I had the pleasure to meet her at Lowell Spinner ballpark in Lowell in 2003. She made a habit of meeting fans and taking their pictures on the concourse. Lowell lost a valuable member of its community.