Let’s start with a peek backward. We introduced the need for helping to fix community-based assets – buildings and places – in the first blog as “fixing community boo-boos.” Then we introduced a way of looking at these sites: the 360 Opportunity Assessment. The 360-OA is a way of assessing potential based upon gauging four key factors: Money, Market, People and Place.
Then we asked for – and received from you, thanks – suggestions on Manchester places that might have a better future if… So our first 360-OA follows.
Reality Alert! This exercise is a “what if,” a very-initial exercise only, and does not yet include the involvement of the site owners or local permitting officials, who typically like to be included when you talk about their property, or their turf. This is to get ideas going. We certainly would involve owners and officialdom next, if an interest is sparked.
The first site visited by son Curtis and me on a recent chilly weekend was 400 Bedford St., in the Mill District.
Money: The building currently is being used for a variety of low-revenue, low-cost purposes, such as studio space, cold storage, and industrial. This makes sense; it keeps the building open and utilized while the marketplace evolves, and avoids old-building deterioration – best to have a building with activity than moth-balled. Conversely, old mill buildings require a lot of money to go from marginal use to “Tah-Dah” ribbon-cutting. Once serious renovation starts, it requires the whole building meet new fire and life-safety codes, parking, handicapped access, etc. It’s better to keep the lower-impact “grandfathered” permitted uses going until the big-fix money is identified in an old building than to try to redevelop it floor-by-floor.
Market: With the steady yet-amazing transformation of the neighboring buildings, 400 Bedford St. most likely will become another in-town apartment with some commercial space building. I’d like to see condo-ownership options versus just rentals. It would get a mix of first-home and empty-nest buyers, resulting in a less sameness of residents. The lower section along Commercial Street (now covered by metal siding) might be utilized as common area and commercial space such as internet cafes, ATMs, gym, and post office kiosk with PO boxes. The adjoining 300 Bedford is a good example of a residential conversion.
People and Place: This section of the Mill District is close to attracting the nucleus of people needed to become a self-standing “village.” With the Eversource conversion at one end and WMUR space at the other, and with the Alpha Loft business incubator space, the Millyard Museum and UNH adding coolness, the people generators are there. Some creative answers are needed to make the place more people-friendly, however. First, a better parking fix is needed that helps all the sites, such as 24-hour usage of the parking lot in front of Cotton; perhaps as resident and student parking at night? Second, the area is very “hard” – lots of bricks and little nature. A common trail system, mini-parks with resting spots, water access, and community-art would tie the area together as a special place, and feel more like a welcoming new hometown.
360 Opportunity Assessment: A strong candidate for significant rehab, but “eventually.” That date could be accelerated – and the overall community’s appeal enhanced – by leadership from building owners, residents and the City thinking – and doing – how best to make this individual collection of buildings share common spaces, amenities and a “our new hometown” theme.
Do we have any volunteers?
Stuart Arnett redevelop hometowns through his company Arnett Development Group in Concord, NH, and is a founding member of the Better Future Alliance L3C, and has served as New Hampshire’s Director of Economic Development. He is the youngest of five sugar-fed boomers. You can reach him with your suggestions for city sites in need of remedy here.
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