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John Hennessey, left, chairman of the River District Redevelopment Commission, stands with local business owner Jim Alden beneath a canopy of umbrellas that is part of the Pollyanna Gateway that will soon connect the downtown with the Ammonoosuc River. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

Littleton looks to link downtown to River District

LITTLETON — While awaiting news about a multi-million dollar grant application, members of the River District Redevelopment Commission are actively moving forward with several, privately-funded “demonstration projects.” The overall goals for the projects are to make Littleton a more welcoming place, by better connecting the downtown to the nearby Ammonoosuc River.

Littleton - Gateway - Photo 3 A view through the Pollyanna Gateway looking north from the Ammonoosuc River to Main Street in downtown, where the statue of the girl with the overwhelmingly optimistic outlook stands on the grounds of the Littleton Public Library. A project is underway to create several gateways in the downtown to provide better access for locals and visitors alike between it and the Ammonoosuc. John Koziol 

“We’ve got this gorgeous river that runs through the center of town and we’ve never fully utilized it,” said John Hennessey, the chairman of the RDRC and vice president of marketing at the Littleton Coin Co.

Beginning in the 1970s when the town invested $1 million in what would later become the Littleton Industrial Park, the municipality has a long, successful history of promoting economic development projects, Hennessey said, adding that the River District is that kind of modern-day equivalent.

The town’s investment in the business park and the Littleton Development Corp., he noted, helped leverage $3 million in other funding opportunities and now the business park generates a substantial sum annually in property tax revenues.

The RDRC hopes to do the same with the River District and in regard to other funding, is seeking $6 million in a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the federal government, with recipients to be announced sometime in September.

Simultaneously, the RDRC, working with local businesses and individuals, has raised more than $200,000 to pay for “demonstration projects,” all of which are geared to getting people from the downtown to both the north and south banks of the Ammonoosuc.

Part of the larger $7.51 million worth of proposed improvements to the downtown, the demonstration projects include multiple gateways from the downtown to the river, including the Pollyanna Gateway, which is named after the lead character with a decidedly optimistic outlook in a book of the same name, written in 1913 by Littleton native Eleanor Porter.

Starting on the north side of Main Street, the gateways would provide visual glimpses and access to the river, where they would have black iron archways, while the Pollyanna archway boasts a section between two buildings that is covered by numerous umbrellas hanging overhead.

The demonstration projects would also include a river vista and expanded walkway; a community-wide spruce up; new lighting, flowers, and flags; and an ambitious calendar of events to bring people into the downtown area and get them closer to the river, while also exploring everything Littleton has in between.

Overall, Hennessey said, the RDRC is seeking to foster economic development and job creation, while making the downtown a safer area more accessible to walkers and bikers while addressing the need for additional parking and re-aligning some of the rough and uneven streets that run parallel to the Ammonoosuc River. Eventually, the plans also call for building a second pedestrian bridge across the river.

The RDRC’s vision, which is the culmination of a 2012 charrette, has the support of town officials and taxpayers who, at the 2014 Town Meeting, agreed to appropriate $80,000 to complete the plans for the River District, said Hennessey.

He added, however, that “one of the most exciting parts of the project is private support,” noting that the RDRC’s members represent the breadth and depth of the community.

“The rubber is beginning to hit the road,” Hennessey said of the demonstration projects which will move forward regardless of whether Littleton receives the TIGER grant. Should the River District be fully funded and built out, Hennessey said it could generate $235,000 a year in new property taxes to the town.