Allenstown to brainstorm ways to invigorate downtown

  • The China Mill facility in Allenstown is seen on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. The old mill is expected to be part of discussions during Friday’s charette meeting. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • The China Mill facility in Allenstown is seen Wednesday. The old mill is expected to be part of discussions during Friday’s charrette meeting.

Monitor staff
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

With travelers going to nearby lakes to swim or Bear Brook State Park to snowmobile, Allenstown sees plenty of people cut through town.

The problem? They often keep driving.

“We need something to make them stop in,” Selectman Jason Tardiff said.

Alongside volunteers from Plan New Hampshire, a statewide nonprofit, the town will spend Friday and Saturday discussing how to do just that.

With few businesses and a tax-exempt state park taking up about half its land, the former mill town of about 4,500 has one of the highest tax rates in the state.

Town leaders hope that with a community brainstorm, Allenstown might be able to figure out how to bring more business – and bustle – to downtown.

Tardiff imagines “a little hometown neighborhood kind of thing,” and thinks something like a mom-and-pop family restaurant would be a good place to start.

Armand Verville, president of the Allenstown Historical Society, thinks the town will have to look to the future – and not the past – when envisioning what comes next.

“If you’re trying to bring back the old days, there’s not much to bring back,” he said.

Even in its heyday, when major railways cut through town and the mills powered the area’s economy, Allenstown was basically a bedroom community.

“The only thing that people did was work and sleep. There wasn’t much to do,” said Verville, who has lived in town for all but three years of his life.

But Verville and town leaders do think at least one part of Allenstown’s history could be a part of its future: the so-called China Mill. Once a major textile mill, the building still operates as a mill but is owned by an out-of-state company.

The charrette process will start at the Allenstown Community Center located at 8 Whitten St. on Friday at 3:30 p.m. for a “public listening session” ending at 5 p.m. After a dinner break, a second listening session will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The charrette will conclude with an all-day brainstorming and work session from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.