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My Turn: What downtown Concord really needs is Ken Burns

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns walks through the museum at the Georgia home used by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Warm Springs, Ga. Burns along with several members of the Roosevelt family toured the home known as the Little White House Saturday used by Roosevelt as Burns previewed parts of his 14-hour film on the Roosevelt's. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns walks through the museum at the Georgia home used by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Warm Springs, Ga. Burns along with several members of the Roosevelt family toured the home known as the Little White House Saturday used by Roosevelt as Burns previewed parts of his 14-hour film on the Roosevelt's. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

An open letter to Ken Burns:

Congratulations on your PBS film The Address. You have captured our imagination by using the most celebrated and important speech in American history as a vehicle to tutor us about the value of words.

Although you are not a native of New Hampshire, many of us consider you one of our own. By choosing to live and work here, you bring great credit to us, and we recognize you in the pantheon of important and heralded New Hampshire citizens. We are indebted to you for your efforts to remind us that we owe much of what we hold dear and sacred in our history to past generations whose shoulders we stand on.

In my hometown of Concord, we have seen you at various events, including the showings of your films. Concord is a proud community with a rich heritage in New Hampshire’s history. It is trying to make itself relevant in the 21st century and is struggling with a plan to accomplish that.

There does not appear to be a consensus on just what could and should be the best way to go about it. We are about to embark on a long and expensive cosmetic treatment of Main Street, which its supporters believe will transform that street into something vibrant and exciting.

It may work, but I’m from Missouri concerning that plan. I believe a better plan would be to encourage a more systematic approach that would include a new and scholarly educational campus on or near to Main Street.

My thoughts on that run along the prospect of your bringing a film institute to Concord bearing your name and featuring a campus dedicated to the style and type of documentary films that you create and produce in Walpole.

A film institute would add prestige to our capital city, which is in dire need of it. Its staff and students would add vibrancy and exciting elements that would encourage new businesses and entertainment to locate here.

There is currently available on Main Street a gem of a vacant movie theater that is looking for an imaginative client to refurbish it.

It could be the perfect permanent contemporary showcase for the library of films you have produced and a perfect companion to the Red River Theatres across the street. Close by is a modern state-owned but surplus office building that may lend itself as the core building of a new campus.

The Merrimack Valley is the gateway to many recreational venues in our state and is one of Concord’s most valuable assets. Students and staff may find this to be an attractive place to settle into without the high costs of a more metropolitan location while still enjoying the benefits of a city that offers a unique environment of small-town America combined with a progressive city government.

People like me are powerless to offer anything more than advice and hope. We hope that a person of your stature and connections may be willing to champion our cause and lend your considerable prestige and influence to help guide us in a new direction.

More than 60,000 automobiles pass by Concord every day during the peak summer months, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. A creditable film institute and companion theater featuring your work would be a welcome diversion for this cavalcade of visitors and allow them to discover what our capital city is all about and help our historic downtown to survive.

Please feel free to drop by the mayor’s office and offer him any advice that you may have about helping us out, or give me a call and I’ll take you out to lunch.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)

Legacy Comments2

"More than 60,000 automobiles pass by Concord every day during the peak summer months, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. A creditable film institute and companion theater featuring your work would be a welcome diversion for this cavalcade of visitors and allow them to discover what our capital city is all about and help our historic downtown to survive." And as soon as they exited the highway and got stuck on or near the one lane Main or Loudon roads...they'd vow never to return.

If you're serious, wouldn't it be a good idea to offer Ken Burns a reason he might want to do this? Your letter points to all the good he would do Concord, making the classic mistake of assuming he ought to want to do it. Why should he put our interests before his own? Maybe if there were a compelling reason for him to haul himself to Concord from Walpole that would serve HIS interests, and not just the city's, we'd have a fighting chance of rising to the top of the pile of solicitations he must get from people who want things from him. You're right about one thing -- it's an honor to have him living and working in NH. So, let's remember he could be doing that anywhere, and talk to him like we know the honor is ours.

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