Editorial: City on the cusp of big change
Concord is on the cusp of something, a metamorphosis of sorts. The view of the future is gauzy, like that of life transforming in a chrysalis. The outlines can be seen, but will what emerges be a bright butterfly that invites attention or a drab moth that’s shunned? The former, we think, but time will tell.
The city has more things in the works than at any time in recent memory. The latest, the subject of a story by city hall reporter Megan Doyle, is the potential purchase of the state-owned Employment Security building on South Main Street, the one with the blue and yellow panels that make it look like a painting purchased at a rummage sale. Concord developer Steve Duprey and a Vermont developer both submitted proposals for the property, but the city council rejected them. Now, it’s back to the drawing board. The state plans to vacate the building in May, so if the city wants to have more of a say in the fate of the property, it may have to buy it now and work out a plan for it later. Given the problems the city has had completing the redevelopment of the Penacook tannery site, should the council spend, say, the $1.75 million appraised value of the property to control what happens to it? We say yes, but realize that it’s a gamble.
The list of changes that could come to Concord in the next few years alone is sobering, and exciting. In no particular order they include: development of the tannery and Employment Security sites; the redesign of Main Street; the conversion of Loudon Road from four lanes to three; the replacement of the moldering Sewalls Falls Bridge; the extension of Storrs Street north from where it turns uphill toward Main Street and along the railroad tracks to the Friendly Kitchen and Horseshoe Pond; the development of a true community center on the Dame School site on the Heights; and the replacement of the skate house in White Park. To those add, perhaps a bit further off, the extension of Langley Parkway from Concord Hospital north to Auburn Street and beyond; the use of land along the east bank of the Merrimack River opposite downtown as a fairgrounds or a park; the redesign of the view of the city as seen from Interstate 93; and, conceivably, a new or expanded city library.
Some of the potential changes in the works are controversial, none more so, perhaps, than the extension of Langley Parkway. Others, like replacing the Sewalls Falls Bridge, have widespread support. A few, like the redesigns of Main Street and Loudon Road, are making a lot of people nervous. We’re betting both work.
The bets should be smart, but the city is right to gamble on changes that should make Concord a more interesting, more prosperous and more liveable place. Done right, the improvements can be made without unduly burdening taxpayers, who will benefit if the changes stimulate economic growth and increase the city tax base. Though everything that can reasonably be done to protect the city’s historic feel, Concord is not Strawbery Banke or Colonial Williamsburg. Its choice is to change or stagnate. Concord, once called the city in a coma, is choosing change.