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Manchester police will meet with downtown businesses to talk crime, quality of life

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 12. 2014 10:14PM

MANCHESTER — Police Chief David Mara and his command staff will meet with business owners Thursday morning at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to talk about strategies already in place and get suggestions to address issues that affect downtown businesses, workers, residents and visitors.

A survey and a series of meetings held by the chamber last year showed the top concerns for businesses were homelessness and vagrancy, followed by panhandling, safety, loitering, traffic and speed, vandalism, theft and drug activity.

Mint Bistro owner Tim Baines said in the past three or four months, he seen some improvement in terms of police presence, but with warm weather, more would be helpful. He said he can’t walk toward City Hall without a panhandler approaching him.

“I think the police presence alone can help,” he said.

The owner of the 1105 Elm St., restaurant said he plans to attend Thursday morning’s meeting.

Baines said he’s worried about what will happen when Anthem moves downtown into the Bank of America building at the corner of Elm and Bridge and the parking garage goes private until 8 p.m. He’s concerned that diners will have to park farther away and walk a distance to reach restaurants and other businesses. At night, that can be a concern for some.

Since the police department moved out of downtown, to Valley Street, he said: “I don’t think people feel as safe.”

When bars empty at 1 a.m., he said there’s no police presence; he’s seen a brawl that finally ended, but no police showed up.

“We want input,” said Mara. “And not only from business people, but also from people who work downtown. We want to work together.”

He said the results of the survey of businesses were helpful in planning.

He hopes the owners who didn’t respond, for whatever reason, will come to Thursday’s meeting.

“We do use the ideas,” he said. “We’ll meet again.”

Gemma Waite French, a spokesman for the chamber, said there were 110 surveys returned out of 550 distributed. But even without survey results, she said, the chamber is aware of the concerns.

“Several (business people) have reached out to us,” she said. High on the list of the things that are negative for business are panhandling and people urinating behind, or in front of, buildings.

Norri Oberlander, vice president of North End Rentals, is responsible for renting the units in the Pembroke Building Luxury Apartments at 795 Elm St. She said she has seen an improvement in the downtown area in recent months.

“I feel downtown crime is low-level,” she said.

But a snatched cell phone or grabbed purse are serious issues to the victims, she said. A year ago, she said she wasn’t happy with police presence.

But that’s changed, she said: “I really have to applaud. They have really rolled out a plan.”

Oberlander said she will be at Thursday’s meeting at 54 Hanover St.

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