October 4, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Investing for the long haul
By†Jody Reese

Without leadership from Manchesterís Mayor Frank Guinta, Manchester will not build a performing arts center. For Guinta and many aldermen the focus is on containing city spending.

Thatís understandable. For most Manchester homeowners, taxes have soared in recent years (just as they have in almost all southern New Hampshire municipalities) ó though so too have home values. Manchester has become a place where people want to buy a home or condo. Developers have bet on this, investing millions to develop projects in Hackett Hill, along the river and on spare bits of land here and there. Older buildings have been reconditioned for office and retail space. Both Concord and Nashua have had some development too, but not at Manchesterís pace.

The end result for Manchester has not been lower taxes, a result some voters might have been counting on. In fact, the growth had the opposite effect. Homes that 10 years ago sold for $120,000 are now selling for $280,000, even with the down housing market. That along with slight increases in school and city government spending have meant tax bills have headed in only one direction and thatís up.

That has spooked the supporters of public investment. Guinta supported both the Verizon and the baseball park, as did most of the aldermen, but there is no similar support for a performing arts center.

That is a failure of leadership.

While itís important not to oversell the positive impact of a performing arts center, it canít help but make Manchester a more desirable place to live and more of a destination for southern New Hampshire ó just as the Capitol Center for Arts did for Concord. Similar to a Macyís in a mall, the Capitol Center anchors Concordís downtown.

The argument that Manchester has invested enough and already has too many projects bonded is a spurious one. The value of an investment is based on the return. The Verizon is returning more than expected and the baseball stadium, though not returning what was promised, is not costing taxpayers any money, according to a recent audit. That area around the baseball park that once was called hobo junction now has a hotel and condo development on it, and I donít think people are living in the woods nearby anymore. That to me seems like a positive return. The large dirt lot at the corner of Elm and Bridge streets now holds an apartment building. The list of buildings rehabbed and new homes and condos goes on and on. The right kind of continued investment can continue to push Manchester forward.

Itís important for a city government to live within its means, just like a family. But just like a family, a city should set aside some money for investment. Sure, thereís a risk, but the alternative leaves less money for retirement or little to no college savings.

Manchesterís mayor too should take a risk and support the performing arts center as a public project. Such an investment can be balanced with curtailing other city spending, if needed.