February 1, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Just fake it
By†Jody Reese

Baby boomers and the next generation down, the GenXers, love cute downtowns, specialty food shops and, of course, the Gap. Cities all across the country have figured this out and have responded by building fake downtowns with shops on the bottom levels, offices on the second floor and apartment and condos on the upper floors. It doesnít matter that these downtowns are faked by developers. The results are the same: people love to live, work, play and shop all in a few-block radius.

Thatís the idea behind developer Dick Anagnostís plans for the Jac-Pac site on Queen City Avenue, less than a mile from Manchesterís downtown.

The 17-acre site was a meat-processing plant for much of the last century until Tyson Foods closed it down a few years ago. Tyson then sold the property to the City of Manchester for $3.5 million.

For good reason, New Hampshire cities and towns try to manage growth and development. Almost all municipal income comes from property taxes. Communities all across the state have bought land and turned it into industrial parks, hotels and anything else city leaders think will bring in more money. Sometimes, city and town governments get it wrong and have to eat a bad investment, just like private business. But itís worth that risk.

Just as it is for the Jac-Pac land. Instead of letting the property become a warehouse or, worse, remain undeveloped, the city stepped in to make sure that it had a strong say in what would go on that property. Thatís paid off.

Anagnostís plans include creating a community of offices, apartments and retail shops. While the look of the property is a bit too modern to create the look of an old-time downtown, the result is the same. If Anagnost is successful, heíll create a place where people can work, shop and live and in the process create a real draw for baby boomers downsizing from the Bedford 4,000-square-foot home and the GenXers. An added benefit will be for Eric Chinburgís condo development up river a few hundred yards. City leaders have worried that not enough property value is going to be created in Chinburgís development to cover the bond interest the city needs to pay for the baseball park and accompanying development. With office and retail added to the Jac-Pac property, more people should want to buy condos at the Chinburg site, driving up property values. Add to that plans by Red Oakís owner, Ron Dupont, for a similar West Side community across the Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge and a whole section of the city seems to fall into place. The winner in all this is the Manchester tax payer.

Sure these communities didnít take 100 years to develop, but that doesnít matter to todayís consumers. Itís the feeling of community that counts.