My Turn: Concord could use some good news, so let’s save the gasholder

For the Monitor
Published: 1/7/2021 6:00:49 AM
Modified: 1/7/2021 6:00:37 AM

‘Boy am I glad we tore that historic building down” is a phrase said by no one, ever. Today, New Hampshire has a decision before it: Do we as a society save the last complete gasholder in the United States or tear it down because we have failed to care for it? The choice should be obvious, but it is not as simple as it seems.

Ask anyone in Boston if they miss the old Scollay Square, or a New Yorker if they miss the original Penn Station, or someone in Concord if they think demolishing the train station 60 years ago was a good idea. You know what they will say.

Then, think about what defines a place: Chicago has the Water Tower, New York has Grand Central, and Boston has Faneuil Hall. People go to Savannah, Georgia, to see its historic district, and they flock to historic places such as San Francisco and the French Quarter in New Orleans. No one travels to see a parking lot. But, in Concord historic preservation with an eye to the future has been full of lapses. Historic homesteads, bridges, and streetscapes have fallen to make way for mostly parking lots.

So, why save the old gasholder? Let’s be honest – it likely has no use – and to preserve it best you need to keep the inside intact. But there is no modern use for Blarney Castle, the Eiffel Tower, or the old Water Tower. A demolished gasholder will leave a huge gap in the Concord skyline, and create a brownfield that could slow the development of a whole section of the city.

If we save it – then what? Stabilized it could be the center of a revitalization that celebrates our industrial and 19th-century history. It could be lit at night, so passing cars can see it from Interstate 93. It could be the anchor of a new bus or train station.

Ever been to Toronto, where an old railroad roundhouse helped revitalize a whole post-industrial area? Or Chicago, where the old factories of Goose Island are now cool and valuable.

I have lived in the Concord area since the early 1990s and sensed the community sadness around the loss of the train station. The gasholder is a wonderful and beautiful relic of our past, and has the potential to be a spark to help vitalize the city gateway district. And, as the last of its kind, it has the potential to be an attraction. Most of all, this has been a lousy few months. We have lost good people, seen some great stores and eateries close, and the economy has taken a hit. Concord could use some good news – and the last thing we need to do is demolish an old friend.

So, let’s just get this done – and save the gasholder.

(Jayme Simões lives in Concord.)

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