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January 04. 2013 10:41PM

Nashua's Bridge Street project puts people first


Kyle Bouley, 27, left, clears snow at the David Deane Skateboard Park in Nashua. The park will be relocated after construction on the Bridge Street development begins later this year. (SIMÓN RÍOS/Union Leader Correspondent)

NASHUA - One element of the ambitious Bridge Street development is starting to take shape for the people who brainstormed it: A waterfront promenade along the confluence of the Nashua and Merrimack rivers.

During 2012, dozens of community members joined Visualize Nashua, a grassroots arm of the developer Renaissance Downtowns. Using what the company terms "crowdsourced placemaking," the team churned through 33 ideas for developing the 26-acre site before voting on the top 10.

Participants navigated the Visualize webpage to post original ideas, or "like" the ideas of others. In November, the 10 ideas that got the most likes were sent in for a feasibility study by Pollock Land Planning, a landscape design firm in Bedford.

Ideas for the promenade included a bike path, information signs, light fixtures, water-play features and a playground/workout area.

Eric Buck, chief landscape architect at Pollock, presented his report to a group of 20 at Renaissance's downtown office Thursday night, discussing the costs, lifecycles and possible options.

Buck said the natural playground allows for cognitive learning. "The difference between a natural play-scape and a standard play area is that it uses an accommodation of nature - things like rocks, logs, plants and other things - to create more interpretative play spaces as opposed to, 'This is a swing set, or this is a jungle gym, or this is monkey bars.'"

The report also contained options for bike path materials, display panels and a splash pad ­- an area for water play with no pooling water, thus eliminating the need for lifeguards, with offerings from a semicircular pipe shower to a mushroom shower to a tree shower. Buck noted that Derry had drawn big crowds with its splash pad at the Humphrey Road playground.

Jim Vayo runs Renaissance Downtowns' Nashua operation. He talked about the importance of placing signs along the river way. "This would explain the significance of the habitat along the water there, and the historical significance of the site in the region," he said. "Henry David Thoreau wrote about the river coming up in the confluence of the Nashua and Merrimack River. And there's a lot of significance to the site within the industrial era of this nation."

Vayo, who is drafting a site plan, said that, where developers often guess what people will like, Visualize Nashua is creating ideas - including the natural play-space and the riverside signage - that wouldn't have been considered otherwise.

"This is very much is driven by the community," he said, "and I think the feasibility of a lot of these things is very high."

In 2009, Long Island-based Renaissance Downtowns won a city contract to develop the 26-acre Bridge Street plot, which is half city-owned and half private, giving Renaissance the exclusive option to buy the land. Renaissance opened a downtown office in mid-2011, which serves as a meeting space for Visualize Nashua.

The Bridge Street project is three-tiered, with residential and retail features in addition to a public amenity, which is taking the form of the waterfront promenade. The company's development criteria is that it has to be good for the public and the environment, as well as profitable for builders.

Though community members are the early decision-makers, Renaissance will OK the proposals before submission to the city for final approval.

The financing of the promenade is yet to be determined, but it would be divided between Renaissance and the city, which owns the land along the water.

Visualize members also voted on items contained in a community building that would offer a space for events such as concerts and picnics. The building plan is broken into two elements - an upper-floor restaurant and a community-use space on the first floor.

Renaissance hopes to break ground in September. Vayo said the project could take from one to three years.

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.


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