Concord candidates debate economic development, city projects
Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce hosted a city candidate forum on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at the Grappone Conference Center.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Flanked by candidates for city council, mayoral candidate, Chris Booth, and current mayor, Jim Bouley, take turns answering questions at the Concord Chamber of Commerce city candidate forum on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at the Grappone Conference Center.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Concord’s mayoral and city council candidates agreed at a forum last night that the city needs to expand its tax base and encourage economic development. But they disagreed about how to accomplish that and how to prioritize the city’s capital improvement projects.
Mayor Jim Bouley and opponent Chris Booth presented differing views of the more than $10 million Main Street project, which will reduce traffic from four to two lanes, widen sidewalks, increase accessibility and add landscaping and public art. Mayoral candidate John Cook did not attend last night’s event at the Grappone Conference Center, hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.
Booth said downtown parking should be free. He said the city must “categorically reject the current proposal” because the city only received one bid from a contractor and it exceeded the city’s budget. (That proposal has already been rejected, and the city officials plan to seek more bids.)
Bouley, a three-term incumbent, said the Main Street project is “one of the most important issues that will be facing the next council,” with construction scheduled to begin next spring and to conclude in 2015. He said the $4.71 million federal grant for the project will help the city improve safety and accessibility.
The most important thing the city can do to expand its tax base is to “continue on the same path we’re on,” Bouley said, and pursue public-private partnerships. Booth said the city must attract manufacturing companies.
Five of the six at-large city council candidates attended last night’s forum. They disagreed on the city’s Main Street project but said they would all prioritize transportation capital improvements.
Asked which capital improvement project is most important, Ward 10 Councilor Fred Keach said the city needs to focus on repaving roads. He supports the city’s Main Street project.
“This is a comprehensive program that’s not just about pretty benches and light poles,” Keach said. “This is a project that will change the downtown . . . and create a downtown that really is an economic hub to our city.”
Scott Welch said he would also focus on roads and the replacement of the Sewalls Falls Bridge. Welch said he would prefer a one-way Main Street over the two-lane plan.
“I don’t believe that widened sidewalks, two lanes with a center barrier strip is really going to help traffic flow on Main Street,” Welch said.
Samantha Clattenburg proposed a new project: building a road from Exit 16 of Interstate 93 to Langley Parkway instead of the proposed extension of Langley Parkway from Pleasant Street to the intersection of Penacook and North State streets. She opposes the Main Street project because she and many other residents cannot afford to shop in the stores downtown.
“Therefore I have a hard time saying, ‘Sweet, I can’t wait to pay millions of dollars in taxes to support a downtown that everyone else is going to utilize, not me,’ ” Clattenburg said.
Ward 4 Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said transportation projects are her first priority. She would also consider returning Engine 1 to the road. She supports the Main Street project.
“There is a lot at stake and so we need to ensure . . . now that we’re in the construction phase of this process, we get this right,” she said.
Timothy Willis, who was late and missed two of the three questions, said the city should first attract business to Main Street before redesigning it.
“I would say build the house before you paint it,” he said.
At-large candidate Josh VanBuskirk did not attend the event.
Ward 1 candidates Brent Todd and Adam Czarkowski agreed that the city should bring more business to Penacook. Todd said the city’s work on zoning districts in Penacook will be key in developing the former tannery and Rivco sites. Czarkowski said his first priority is bringing a grocery story to the tannery site. Cassandra Rasmussen, the third Ward 1 candidate, did not attend the event.
Ward 2 candidates Allan Herschlag and Tim Bauman both said they have some concerns about the city’s approach to development. Bauman called the city’s role “a slippery slope” and said government should get out of the way of developers. Herschlag said if the city uses tax incentives for development, the special tax districts should return at least half of their increased value “to pay for city services from day one.” On project priorities, Bauman said the city should be cautious of projects that include federal grants. Herschlag said his top priority is reducing odor at the Hall Street wastewater treatment center.
In Ward 3, candidates presented different capital improvement priorities. Ward 3 Councilor Jan McClure said future project priorities beyond those already in progress are extending Storrs Street and considering city involvement in the redevelopment of the state Employment Security headquarters on South Main Street. Rick Cibotti said his priorities are replacing the Sewalls Falls Bridge, repairing streets, getting a state-of-the-art library and returning Engine 1 to the road. Jennifer Kretovic, who represents Ward 2 but lives in Ward 3 due to redistricting, stressed that the capital improvement program is fluid, but she said the future could include the extension of Langley Parkway, a community center on the Heights or a new library.
Ward 4 candidates had different views of economic development. Kevin Bloom said the city’s role “is to step out of the way” of businesses. At-Large Councilor Michael DelloIacono said the city should work with property owners to bring housing to the upper stories of downtown buildings. Byron Champlin said the city should encourage retail business on downtown side streets and work to find space for a business incubator.
Two of the Ward 8 candidates agreed that Concord should work to attract more business. Gail Matson said development should be kept to areas of the city that are already zoned for business. Dennis Soucy said he would like to bring a venue like Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena to Concord. Ward 8 Councilor Dick Patten is running for re-election but did not attend the forum.
The elections will be held Nov. 5.