February 24, 2011

Group to make push for Abbott Court

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- For months, Derry’s Downtown Committee has been quietly mulling ways to uplift the town’s center, which has been plagued with closing businesses and limited foot traffic.
And committee members say they plan to ask the council this spring to begin setting aside money for a development on the municipal
 parking lot on Abbott Court.
“Nothing’s going to happen overnight,” said Mike Gendron, who serves as a spokesman for the committee. “What we’re suggesting is not going to happen for five to 10 years. We just want to get the funding mechanisms in place to start setting aside some dollars on an annual basis to­
ward investing in downtown.” 

Gendron said the committee has loosely narrowed in on one of several possible uses for the Abbott Court parking lot outlined by the Arnett Group of Concord, with whom the town has contracted economic development services.
That proposal would incorporate a 204-lot parking garage, 86 surface parking spaces and roughly six mixed-use retail, office and residential buildings, Gendron said. He said the committee has suggested that medical offices, high-tech companies or hotels, for example, could work in combination with more traditional retail shops. 
Downtown Committee chairman Gordon Graham said he hopes the plan would also incorporate some open spaces and create a “pedestrian mall.” 
“We want to think big and to make some long-term plans to attract a large development to what is really a unique piece of property in a downtown area of the fourth largest community in New Hampshire,” Graham said. 
Graham said the town would ideally work with interested developers to see what uses could work for the space before completing the necessary infrastructure updates. 
“It will likely be whatever the market is interested in,” he said. “The thing the town needs to do is be prepared to step up to the plate and work with a developer to make sure that it supports that developer through the possible construction down there.” 
But committee member Mary Hankins, owner of Backmann Florist on West Broadway, said she wants to see further facade improvements on Broadway before the town pursues new construction. 
“I think (Abbott Court) will be wonderful, but it seems like we’re going in lots of different directions,” Hankins said. “Let’s take what monies and abilities we have now to work on what we have already.” 
Downtown committee member Dan Nelson said he sees the Abbott Court project as a way to spur upgrades to the entire downtown area. 
“Right now many of the improvements are along Broadway itself, but you go back a block or two and it’s what we’ve had for decades,” Nelson said. “This is forming a core nucleus that we can expand out from.” 
Other suggestions include the extension of Merchant’s Row, where the former Depot Square Steakhouse building sits, to South Avenue. Members have also suggested the construction of a semi-permanent farmers market structure nearby. 
Gendron said committee members are hoping to see the downtown project incorporated into the town’s Capital Improvement Plan and ideally funded with a new TIF District. 
With money set aside, Gendron said the town could make any necessary infrastructure upgrades to the ready the space for developers and possibly purchase “gateway properties” that surround the Abbott Court lot to expand the available area. 
Committee member Craig Bulkley said he sees the Abbott Court project as comparable to the Ash Street development, where the town purchased and updated a parcel of land to prepare for commercial development. He said that bringing more people into downtown for work and recreation would only help the other businesses in the area. 
“It’s much more than just spending money today. It’s a matter of being able to have a vision for what the downtown can look like in 10 to 20 years down the road,” Bulkley said. “The money the council may decide to spend will come back to us in many ways if we’re able to get more people in the downtown.” 
Gendron said the committee will refine its council recommendations in the coming weeks and hopefully get the proposal before the council ahead of budget deliberations in April. 

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