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Nashua planning board voices concerns over arts center proposal

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

January 12. 2018 9:59PM
The city planning board agreed Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, that it does not have enough information to make a recommendation to aldermen on the proposed acquisition of the former Alec's shoe store, which is being eyed as a future performing arts center. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent file)



NASHUA — The city planning board agreed Thursday that it does not have enough information to make a recommendation to aldermen on the proposed acquisition of the former Alec’s shoe store, which is being eyed as a future performing arts center.

“I still don’t understand where this $2 million is coming from,” planning board member David Robbins said of the $2 million acquisition cost of the building at 201 Main St.

“We are here to talk about land use, not how much it costs,” argued Edward Weber, another planning board member.

The board said it needs more details on what would happen to the downtown building if it was purchased for $2 million and the arts center never came to fruition. The board opted to table the matter until February, in the hopes that a city representative would present more details on the proposed project so that it could make a recommendation on the proposal.

“The scope of our decision here is limited. Ultimately, the board of aldermen is going to make a decision based on the hearings it conducts,” said Adam Varley, chairman of the planning board.

The planning board’s recommendation is solely to provide guidance on the merits of the proposed acquisition of the downtown building and its future use as an arts center, explained Varley.

According to planning officials, the proposed purchase-and-sale agreement is expected to close by March 15.

Planning board member Gerry Reppucci said it may not make sense to acquire the property without knowing for certain that funding for the arts center is secure; $4 million in private donations is needed before a $15.5 million bond would be issued, according to the proposal.

While Reppucci said he likes the idea of an arts center, he questioned whether the former Alec’s property is the best location for it in Nashua.

“In my mind, I don’t have enough information to say yes or no,” said Reppucci, noting concerns were previously raised about whether the site is large enough and whether it could accommodate all of the needs of an arts center.

Last year, aldermen rejected the proposed $15.5 million bond, however a new board is now in place and a nearly identical proposal is once again being considered.

“Somewhere along the way we did say this is a good use for the building,” City Engineer Steven Dookran said of the planning board. “ … I think we need to take a position and we should.”

In addition, Varley said the voters supported the $15.5 million bond in a non-binding referendum last fall at the polls.

“From my perspective, I haven’t found any reason to think that $15.5 million is going to be enough money. They provided no financial plans and they provided no information relative to how they are going to pay for this,” stressed board member Dan Kelly.

Planning officials decided to table their vote on whether to recommend the acquisition until Feb. 1, at which time they hope to receive more information from the city on the project.

Meanwhile, an aldermanic committee is set to review the proposal in more depth on Jan. 22.

khoughton@newstote.com


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