It’s been a quiet election season thus far in town, but things might have picked up steam Wednesday as Republican candidates for the Board of Directors unveiled what they termed a “Jobs Redevelopment Plan” that hinges around the creation of a new Economic Development Agency in town and the private development of the former into a series of sports complexes that could cost more than $15 million.
The six-part plan, which Republicans unveiled at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, would see:
- The creation of a new Economic Development Agency appointed by the Board of Directors.
- The implementation of the “Republican Agenda of 2007,” when the party last controlled the Board of Directors, to hire a full-time Business Advocate who would report directly to the General Manager.
- A requirement that the Business Advocate also present a monthly in-person report to the Board of Directors on efforts to attract new businesses to town.
- A requirement that a new Economic Revitalization Plan be submitted to the Board of Directors by March 13, 2012.
- A partnership between Manchester High School, Howell Cheney Technical High School, Manchester Community College and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to create job shadows, internships, apprenticeships and job-training programs in town.
- And the pursuit of a “public/private partnership” to develop an athletic complex and recreational facilities at the town-owned Broad Street Parkade property that would include an indoor running track, a hockey rink and a pool and exercise areas.
It is the parkade development component, which could carry a price tag of more than $15 million at full build out, that will likely prove the most controversial aspect of the Republicans’ proposal.
Under the plan, which Republicans stressed would be entirely financed through private developers and would result in new tax money for the town, the 19-acre parkade property, which the town purchased earlier this year for $1.85 million, would be sold off to a private developer or developers who were committed to realizing the Republicans goal of a 100,000-square foot sports bubble that would include an indoor running track, batting cages, and multiple soccer, volleyball and basketball courts; a 37,500-square foot hockey rink is also planned for the site; along with a two-story 28,900-square foot brick building that could house daycare facilities, offices, an exercise area and an indoor pool; a 6,300-square foot commercial office building is also called for under the proposal.
Based on designs provided by the Russell & Dawson Architecture and Engineering firm, the buildings would be constructed to resemble the Cheney Mills buildings and Clock Tower in the downtown area, and would “develop a public private partnership to develop the parkade into an athletic center bringing revenue into town coffers, providing new job growth, establishing multiple turf fields, an indoor track, ball courts, a gym and…community pool in a more cost effective and efficient manner that would provide a facility where our senior high school students could graduate on home turf.” Detailed sketches of the plan are attached as a PDF to this article.
Cheri Pelletier, a Republican member of the Board of Directors running for re-election who was at the press conference to unveil the proposal, said the plan came about because as she and other Republican candidates were campaigning door-to-door they kept hearing the same thing from local residents: that they did not want to see the parkade used to develop more housing in town.
“The whole concept of putting housing down there has not been flying with our residents when we talk to them,” she said. “…This idea keeps coming up from our community. As candidates and elected officials, we keep hearing it.”
In September of 2009, the Board of Directors adopted a plan that called for amendments to the area's zoning regulations to allow for residential and mixed-use development of the property, as well as significant infrastructure renovations to the Broad Street area to expand the streetscape for pedestrians and beautify the area by connecting it to Bigelow Brook and Center Springs Park.
In November of 2009, voters approved a referendum question that gave the town the authority to spend up to $8 million on revitalization efforts in the area, including the ability to acquire property. Those plans have been slowly moving forward since, , along with , and the town is currently in the process of soliciting contractors to carry out the demolition of the buildings on site. There is also a $12 million dollar referendum question on the ballot this Election Day, Nov. 8 that includes funding for the and the Broad Street Redevelopment plan.
Timothy Devanney, who serves as chairman of the Manchester Redevelopment Agency, who the Board of Directors appointed with coming up with a plan to redevelop the Broad Street area, said he was shown the Republicans’ proposal yesterday and that his first reaction was one of surprise.
“My first thing was, ‘Whoa, this was a different plan than what we had,” Devanney said. “It’s totally different from where we were heading, that’s for sure.”
Devanney said he had concerns that the Republicans’ proposal was “somewhat one dimensional” and might not be the best use for the property.
“The ‘Live, Work and Play’ thing, that’s kind of the theme that we’ve adopted and gone with,” he said. “This is a ‘play, play, and play some more.’”
Mark Tweedie, another Republican member of the Board of Directors who is running for re-election and attended the press conference, said the point of the proposal was to “think big” and give residents another option for development of the parkade property.
“Anything in this plan can be morphed or changed or not even occur,” Tweedie said. “But the point is to let people see it and see if they have an interest in it.”
Republicans said they had spoken to potential developers who have expressed interest in the proposal.
Stephen Gates, a Democratic who is running for a spot on the Board of Directors this November and who has partnered with Manchester High School Track Coach Thayer Redman and approached both the Board of Directors and the Manchester Redevelopment Agency about , said by email Wednesday afternoon that he was “disappointed that Republican leadership chose to invent an election issue rather than continuing to support the bipartisan work of the Redevelopment Agency.”
“My hope is that indoor athletics will get fair consideration by the RDA as the Broad Street plans unfold,” Gates continued.
General Manager Scott Shanley declined to discuss the proposal Wednesday afternoon, because he said he did not want to get involved in political issues among the board or potential future members, but noted that the proposal “isn’t the direction that the Board of Directors unanimously provided for before.”
Devanney said the Redevelopment Agency would likely discuss the Republicans’ proposal at its next meeting, but that he was disappointed that the plan was unveiled to the public so quickly and two weeks before an election.
“My first response is I wish it hadn’t got political,” he said. “We’ve tried so hard to not let this thing get political, now it’s an election time and all of a sudden a plan surfaces?”