It has been almost a year and a half since we returned to Manchester, and during our time back I have been getting to know people, getting involved in the community that I love, and have been making some observations of our city and about our elected officials. As I often say, “I love Manchester but it is not perfect.”
My wife and I were intentional about moving back to Manchester and making it our home — and are glad that we did! There are, however, a few things that need to be done to make Manchester an even greater city.
The first thing that I observed — a positive thing — is the growing number of businesses (both large corporations and small start-ups) that have invested in our city. From DYN, (bought by Oracle), and PillPack, (bought by Amazon), to The Bookery, (which finally brought an independent bookstore that sells new books to Elm Street), businesses are seeing that New Hampshire’s Queen City is where they need to be. I’ve also noticed new eateries and music venues in our city as well as the growing arts scene, (Studio 550, Jupiter Hall, and the renovation and coming re-opening of the Rex Theatre to name a few). Manchester has a lot going for it!
However, there are some things that I feel could be improved to make living in our city easier on residents and would also help our city to continue moving forward.
Burnt and Blighted Properties
One observation that I have made are of the abandoned or otherwise uninhabitable residential properties in our city. For example, there is a property on the West Side that has been empty for a while as well as two properties on the East Side that burned a while back but are all still standing. (One of the East Side buildings burned in April of 2018 and the other burned in December of 2017). As far as the burnt buildings, I understand that it takes a while for insurance companies to process loss claims, but it has been a while. (My understanding is that the city has recently approved the planned demolition of the property that burned in December 2017, which is good). The building is along a main thoroughfare to downtown and looks terrible. (Plus the people in the neighborhood have to deal with a burnt-out empty building every day) The building that burned last April is not on a main thoroughfare to downtown, but the people in that neighborhood still have to deal with it every day.
Having this type of blight in a neighborhood, or any serious blight, makes me think about the “Broken Windows Theory” as well as other problems that come with these properties such as squatting and increased apathy in the neighborhood, (especially if the neighborhood already has issues with crime or is known to police as a “hot spot.”)
The empty building on the West Side has a place card with a red ‘X’ on it, which in many jurisdictions is a warning to first responders and other personnel that the building is structurally unsafe and should not be entered. This building has been in this condition for a while which leads me to wonder why it is still standing. I often hear, “If property owners don’t care why should the residents?” Buildings like this make me think about the truth of that statement.
I believe that the city should put pressure on the property owners to fix or demolish the burnt or abandoned buildings and to clean up the properties. If the property owners will not take care of their properties, then the city should look into the legal options, (especially if back taxes are owed). One idea is for the city to take the building and transfer ownership of the property to the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority, (MHRA), and allow them to construct properties to be used for subsidized housing for say the elderly or disabled. There is a need. I recently watched a Board of Mayor and Aldermen, (BMA), meeting where the new Executive Director of MHRA spoke about the agency and it was mentioned that there are over 1,000 people on the waiting list for housing and Section 8 vouchers and that the overall vacancy rate is around 2 percent.
Having more properties at their disposal would help MHRA provide for people who need housing assistance. While it probably is not feasible for the city to take all burnt or blighted properties and transfer ownership of them to the MHRA, it is a way for the city to solve a problem and to show that they are serious about not having substandard properties in our city.
‘Parking Space Share’ During Snow Emergencies
As many know, there were three snow emergencies called within a span of about a week in mid to late January. While it is important that our city streets remain clear for the safe movement of traffic and pedestrians and for emergency vehicle access, the process that we currently have seems status quo and “good enough.” We should be thinking of better and more efficient ways to do things that make life easier for residents, not more difficult.
Our snow emergency process creates undue burdens on people that do not have off-street parking by requiring them to either seek out free parking at locations that may not be feasible for them to get to or to pay what can be significant fees to park at a private lot (if one is available).
I have been thinking of ways that would allow the city to fulfill its obligation of clearing our streets without causing undue burdens to the residents. In a previous article, I had suggested approaching Catholic Medical Center about using their garage for West Side parking during snow emergencies. I still think that approaching CMC and other local businesses about providing parking to people during a snow emergency is a good idea, but in addition the city should also allow property owners to rent parking spaces to the public without charging the property owner or parker any city-imposed fees or requiring any special licenses. The city should also ensure that ordinances allow — or are created to allow — space sharing. There are space sharing companies in existence such as Shareable and ParkShare if you’d like to check them out. (Think Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, except for parking).
A Place to Buy Groceries on the West Side
One of my biggest issues with the West Side (which I have been pretty vocal about) is the lack of a mid-size grocery store. We used to have Vista Foods next to CMC, but that has been gone for a while. Although we now have a Market Basket on Elm Street, we do not have a place to buy grocery items at reasonable prices in our area. In addition to the Pariseau mid-rise and surrounding neighborhoods, a market in our area would also serve the Burns mid-rise, which would make grocery shopping much less burdensome for many elderly and disabled folks.
My suggestion would be to contact Aldi about constructing a store on the property where Vista was or at another nearby West Side location. Aldi is a mid-size store so it uses a smaller footprint and can fit where larger grocery stores could not. Aldi has very reasonable prices, (they carry “private label” products that are made by the same companies that produce national brands), and accept most forms of payment. (At this time Aldi does not accept checks or WIC but they do accept EBT).
We need more uses for the SNHU arena
Having followed the departure of the (AHL) Manchester Monarchs and having them replaced with the (ECHL) Manchester Monarchs along with the departure of several AHL teams in the New England area has solidified my view. Parent organizations of “minor league” teams are relocating them closer to their NHL franchises, often leaving the community with an almost always empty arena to pay for. The City of Manchester owns the SNHU arena and would be on the hook if the Monarchs leave at the end of their current agreement, which expires in 2021. (SNHU has naming rights and the arena is managed by SMG but the facility is owned by The City of Manchester).
I love that we have an arena in our city, but it needs to bring in revenue to be successful and not a drain on city funds. The fact that there has been no public discussion of a contingency plan if the Monarchs were to move is concerning. This along with the fact that the ownership group that bought the Monarchs back in 2016 already has them up for sale and hockey attendance is 25th of the 27 team ECHL. This makes me wonder what the plan is for our arena. Any loss of arena events would affect many downtown businesses, including hotels, eateries, and retailers and would also have a negative impact on things like parking revenue.
It’s time that our city leadership start being proactive and look at additional uses for the SNHU Arena. The novelty of having an arena is long over and I have heard from fans that they are unhappy that the AHL no longer exists in Manchester, taking with it some good rivalries (such as the one we had with the Providence Bruins, Portland Pirates, and the Worcester Sharks [it’s good to note that both the Pirates and the Sharks have relocated as well]).
Hockey games are not the only events that take place at the SNHU Arena. However, having a professional hockey team is a draw and was a primary reason for building the arena in the first place. We need to look at additional uses for the SNHU Arena in order to bring more people into our city and to bring in more revenue. Additional revenue would not only help pay the debt related to the arena as well as operations and facility improvements, but any remaining revenue could be used to pay other city obligations..
Willingness to Listen and Being Proactive
I have observed a good amount of push-back from some of the aldermen against pretty much anything that would change the status quo or that could change the way things are done in our city. Close-mindedness and an unwillingness to listen are not good traits of people who are expected to lead.
Our elected officials need to be willing to discuss ways to do things differently. We may have “always done it that way” and the discussions may not result in change, but we need to have the discussions and the aldermen need to be willing to listen if we are to continue moving Manchester forward.
Our elected officials also need to take more of a proactive approach to things and stop being so reactive. It is getting better but we could improve.
Final Thoughts and Survey Update
In my previous article, I shared some results from surveys that were conducted to gauge how people feel about their elected officials. As promised, I have some updated numbers.
As I hoped, more people have participated in the poll since the article posted. The number that sticks out to me most is the amount of people who do not feel represented by their elected officials. While the number declined, it is still high. The most recent results are that 47.06 percent of those who participated in the poll do not feel that their elected officials represent them. (That is down from 56.25 percent but as mentioned, is still not good). Almost half of the people do not feel represented. We need to do better. I have decided to leave the poll open so if you’d like to take it you can by clicking here.
The best way to be sure that things get done and that we are truly represented is to get involved. Share your concerns with your alderman or school board member. The list of aldermen is available by clicking here and the school board members can be found by clicking here.
If you need to know what ward you live in, click here. There is also a great site where one can learn more about our city as well as its neighborhoods called My Manchester. Learn more about our city by clicking here. Finally, there is a private neighborhood social networking site called Next Door that allows users to interact with others in their neighborhood. This is a great way to organize and post local meetings, groups, and other activities or to share information and news about your area. The site can be found here.
We are in an election year for city officials including Mayor, Aldermen, and School Board so now is the time to get involved, vocalize your concerns, lobby for changes, and either run for office or support someone who will help move our city forward and help make life easier for the residents. Let’s do this!
Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who has come home after spending several years living in Providence, Rhode Island. Brian and his family are excited to be back in Manchester and are focused on contributing to their community. Brian is the founder of Manchester Forward, a group that is dedicated to celebrating our city, honoring its history, and advocating for its smart growth. Brian merges his life experiences with his passions for innovation and community to develop his articles. Brian and his family live on the West Side. Brian can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.