November 19, 2010

Moving Derry Forward: Focus should be downtown

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- After a council charge to outline improvements to the Route 28 TIF District and downtown areas, the Moving Derry Forward Committee has delivered — and then some.
Over three meetings in three months, the group of business owners, town and school officials and community activists compiled more than 80 specific suggestions for improving the economic climate in Derry.
But at the group’s meeting
 Thursday, Stu Arnett of Arnett Development Group in Concord presented a narrowed list of those goals to be forwarded to the council. Arnett was hired by the town last October to improve economic development. 
To the committee’s first target — the North Route 28 TIF District — Arnett highlighted immediate goals of working with property owners to market and design the area, adding a traffic light at A Street and to review plans for a new B Street throughroad. 
And for the downtown, Arnett suggested that the town’s first goals should be improving signage and lighting in existing parking lots, looking into the need for new parking, and coordinating events at Adams Memorial Opera House with those at Stockbridge Theater at Pinkerton Academy. 
Arnett said Derry should also soon consider a downtown redevelopment TIF District similar to what the town is pursuing on Route 28. 
While Arnett highlighted some of the bigger, immediate areas the town could focus on, some members said they hoped to see some smaller improvements up front, too. 
“I think you took off some of the easy things the town could do to make downtown better,” said planning board Chair David Granese. “How much does paint cost? And if we change the industrial park sign, it shows the town is doing something instead of just meeting and banging their heads against the wall. It’s the little things.” 
After discussion, Arnett said he agreed that the industrial park change — from Derry Industrial Park to a more inclusive name like to Derry Commerce Park — could be an easy first step. 
But tackling some of the larger items on the committee’s list will take money, and to that end Arnett proposed that the council begin to set aside money into a designated economic development fund each year. 
Down the line, he said the town should consider having a designated economic development person on staff, complemented by contracted specialists as needed. 
“We know we have a lot of things to do and that’s why I’m recommending a targeted fund so you have over time some level of reinvestment into the economy,” Arnett said. “... If you look at the history of the development process it ramps up and ramps down and sustainability is very important.” 
In the future, Arnett also proposed that the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, which has its office in Derry, could serve as a contact point for people interested in getting connected with the Moving Derry Forward Committee’s many members and resources. 
And while chamber members present at Thursday’s meeting said the executive board would likely be open to the idea, chamber Vice President Bill Parnell reminded attendees that the chamber’s goals were different than that of the Derry committee. 
“One thing the group needs to know very clearly is that we are not the Derry Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “We are the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and our charge is regional, not Derry-specific, though that doesn’t take us out of the equation by any stretch.” 
But all group members who spoke Thursday agreed that their work was not yet finished, as several said they hoped to see the committee continue on with some oversight for the other economic development groups in town. 
“You have a synergy and a group that’s incredibly focused,” said Bernie Ross of the chamber of commerce. “That’s a strength that a lot of communities and even states don’t have, so you want to keep that strength and continue that momentum.” 
Members will review drafts of a final report this month before sending the committee’s findings to the council. 
And though Thursday was to be the committee’s final meeting, the group decided to convene again on Jan. 20 to being moving forward. 

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