MANCHESTER, NH – “What can I say?” said Chuck Kalantsis, who appeared before the board of Aldermen Tuesday night, to defend his initiative to close Lowell Street to vehicular traffic.
The Lowell Street closure, granted last week by the Board of Aldermen, was short-lived, after the board voted Tuesday to rescind the initiative during a special meeting of the Board of Alderman after backlash from neighboring businesses.
During the special meeting the board heard from neighboring business owners, who said they were adversely affected by the road closure, which allowed for the closure of Lowell Street to traffic for cafe seating outside of Penuche’s on Friday and Saturday nights between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m.
The board voted Tuesday to rescind the permit and revisit the proposal by Chuck Kalantsis. They will be setting up a meeting with other business owners in the area to see if they can reach a compromise.
Kalantsis, owner of Penuche’s Music Hall, set the wheels in motion for the street closure back in April, something which he suggested in the same spirit as a similar agreement between Hanover Street businesses: Closing Lowell Street to traffic and creating a more walkable setting, with outdoor seating for patrons and live acoustic music.
The board noted that Kalantsis followed the city’s requirements and obtained the proper permitting. However, one of the stipulations, to have a police detail between the hours of 5 p.m. and 1 a.m., was the ultimate deal-breaker. Although Kalantsis made the request to police for the a detail, no officer was assigned, something that Assistant Police Chief Carlo Capano addressed during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Capano said there was a misunderstanding with the detail clerk, and that the detail should have been assigned as a “priority” detail.
Kalantsis said when four police officers showed up Saturday night to shut down the outdoor seating area, it was an embarrassment.
“I had people out there eating, and I was embarrassed. I had these other restaurants calling for the police to come, and they came twelve times, and made me look so bad. They tried to find something wrong, but there wasn’t anything wrong,” Kalantsis said. “And at 9:05 p.m. the police came back and said ‘I’m shutting you down. You got 10 minutes to get everything out or I’m arresting you. “That’s a way to handle someone who’s worked hard to develop this? I ask you all you gave me the permit, I followed everything.”
Kalantsis explained to the board how he felt the initiative would make the downtown better for everyone.
“I went into this property to make downtown a lot better. When I took it over it was a total disgrace for the city of Manchester. It was dirty. It was the worst corner that you could possibly see… it attracted the wrong people, and made downtown terrible,” Kalantsis said. “Many people came to me and said, listen, you got the guts; why don’t you get that place going? And if anyone knows me they know I got guts.”
Several local business owners came forward to address the board Tuesday, expressing concerns about the process followed by the board, and the negative impact the street closure had for them.
Ben Gamache said that the closure created an inconvenience for the 60 tenants of his five-story office building on Lowell Street.
“I’m surprised something like this was considered,” Gamache said.
David Spagnuolo, owner of Gale Motor Co. Eatery on Lowell Street, said he was “one-hundred percent opposed” to the closure.
“Saturday night when they shut it down, there was no police detail, there was amplified sound – which there wasn’t supposed to be – it destroyed my business, and I’m sure Red Arrow felt it, Gauchos felt it – I agree with Ben Gamache. I don’t know how it came to pass without any of us knowing,” Spagnuolo said.
Alderman Pat Long took the fall for the mishandling of the request.
“I’ll take the hit for having this mess,” Long said. ” I should have gone to [Manchester Economic Development Office] and said hey, can you organize a meeting with businesses in that area? In hindsight, that’s what I should have done. I’m still in favor of this closure.”
Alderman Joseph Levasseur said he voted against the proposal last week because he suspected it had not been properly vetted.
“This is a democratic process, and I find it unsettling that an individual aldermen or a business owner with the most to gain would be telling people he spoke to every individual business,” Levasseur said. He was referring to an email Kalantsis provided to the board from April in which he ran the idea past Red Arrow owner Carol Lawrence.
“If you read that email from Carol, she’s asking did you speak to the owner at Gale Motor Co.? We shouldn’t have just taken the word of one person who has everything to gain,” Levasseur said.
Peter McCone, speaking on behalf of Republic and Campo Enoteca, said he agreed with Gamache and Spagnuolo, but had a different take on the road closure.
“Maybe we all would benefit from something like this if it were organized in a way that it makes sense. As it is now it’s almost discrimination against businesses not on Hanover or Lowell streets. My suggestion is closing Elm Street,” McCone said. “We don’t need access to Elm. All the businesses on Elm can be accessed by other streets. I think it’s time to spread it more evenly.”
McCone cited the annual Rotary Club car show as an example of how closing access to Elm Street makes the downtown more accessible for all.
“The Rotary has said the biggest cost is to pay for all the police detail to shut the street down. They had 20,000 people come to the Taco Tour, and they’ve never closed down the street. I think it’s time for the city to step forward and say if we think Elm Street is the heart of our economy, it’s time to step forward and help all businesses on the street, in an organized manner,” McCone said.
Greg Cullen, who is the landlord for Kalantsis’ property, defended Kalantsis and his initiative.
“He’s a bulldog… but once we learned about Chuck and saw what his reasons were for being as aggressive as he was we started taking a liking to him. He’s enthusiastic about the city and making his location better,” Cullen said. “He looks at his property and has pride, he’s proud of what he’s done and how he’s bettering the neighborhood, and he wants to continue doing things to keep bringing people downtown,”Cullen said.
Ultimately. the board voted to rescind the permit for Penuche’s and to meet with the other downtown businesses to come up with a compromise for the road closure.