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Nashua public hearing to focus on $15.5m arts center proposal

Union Leader Correspondent

January 21. 2018 8:46PM

NASHUA — As more details about the proposed $15.5 million performing arts center are set to be discussed during a public hearing today, at least one alderman is voicing concern.

“I said I would follow the vote of my constituents, and Ward 5 voted against this. I feel that I am bound to keep my word and vote against this proposal,” said Alderman Ernest Jette.

Jette was referring to a non-binding ballot question last November asking voters whether they support a $15.5 million downtown arts center. With a vote of 5,163 to 5,016, residents narrowly supported the initiative.

However, Jette said that five out of the nine wards voted in opposition.

“I think that we owe it to the people that have voiced opposition to take their opposition seriously and their questions seriously and come up with answers,” he told the aldermanic planning and economic development committee last week.

The committee, as well as the Nashua City Planning Board, delayed voting on whether to recommend the bond after saying they need more information and want to hear public input.

“We owe a duty to the voters to spend the city money as wisely as possible — as though it was coming out of our own pockets,” said Jette, adding officials must answer important questions such as why this is being proposed by the city and not a private developer, and why this was not ranked a top priority by the Capital Improvements Committee.

“I think you will see this is a pretty well-formed project,” said Alderman Brian McCarthy, president of the board.

McCarthy said Nashua has a good market for a downtown arts center, maintaining it will be a good decision for the community.

Tim Cummings, economic development director, said many of the recent concerns that have been raised have already been answered and addressed. In addition, he said a lengthy presentation will take place this evening in front of the aldermanic budget review committee to provide additional, specific details.

That presentation, along with a public hearing on the proposed $15.5 million bond to convert the former Alec’s shoe store at 201 Main St. into an arts venue, is set to begin at 7 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

A nearly identical proposal was narrowly rejected last year by aldermen.

Cummings said the downtown area is an underperforming asset. With a little investment in the downtown corridor, Cumming said the city could see a great return.

“It is a project that we won’t be able to start the construction until after we raise an endowment,” Cummings said of the proposed $4 million in donations needed to jumpstart the project.

Depending on the fundraising, he said the building may not be utilized as a performing arts center until 2020.

“It is going to take us a little while to get to that point,” said Cummings. “ … It is projected, at its peak, to have three to four performances a week. We are hoping it has more.”

Alderman Richard Dowd said that even if the bond is passed, the money will not be spent the following day. The endowment is still necessary to make it a reality, he said.

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