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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Manchester Connects is looking for some great connectors

By MIKE COTE
April 21. 2018 5:33PM
Liam Michelsohn of Manchester jogs over the Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge in Manchester on Friday. Among the proposals by Manchester Connects is creating a second pedestrian bridge across the river. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



Convincing young people to stay in Manchester has never been easy, much to the consternation of city native John Clayton.

"What they wanted out of Manchester was themselves," Clayton says. "That was my experience. It's a funny line, but it's true. It's something that always bugged me."

Clayton's message to young Manchester natives: "Don't go away. Make it better."

Clayton and other organizers of Manchester Connects are betting they can find people who do want to stay and make it better. They are seeking eight recruits to serve on the organization's steering committee.

Over the past two years, the nonpartisan group has hosted a series of town hall meetings to address improvements to downtown, including adding more parking, expanding the Riverwalk and building a pedestrian bridge.

Harry Malone, who co-chairs the group, is encouraged by the number of young people who already have expressed interest.

"One of the things we discovered in these town hall meetings was that there were a lot of millennials who came up to us and said, 'We enjoy the urban lifestyle, and we came to Manchester specifically because we liked Manchester, and we're anxious to see great things happen,'" Malone says.

The retired attorney married one of the ones who got away.

"That was my wife's experience. She left to go to college and never came back," Malone says. "But it was us visiting family here over a period of years, where one day, about 10 years ago, I told her, 'I could live in Manchester. That appeals to me.' And that's why we moved up here."

Malone and fellow co-chair Sarah Jacobs need eight "connectors or project managers who are engaged in the city and are really an expert in the work that was done already," said Jacobs, who oversees strategic initiatives for the University of New Hampshire Manchester.

In addition to parking, the Riverwalk and the pedestrian bridge, the group needs leaders to oversee "placemaking" and the Loop. The latter is a guided pathway marked by M's that help walkers navigate between Elm Street and the Millyard as they encounter historical sites, arts and culture.

Other leaders will oversee communications, resource identification (translation: finding money), and legal and regulatory issues.

In November, more than 100 people attended a meeting to review a report prepared by Manchester Connects that details potential cultural and economic development initiatives for the Queen City's downtown and Millyard areas. The goal is for the new leaders to help advance progress on those initiatives in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce's downtown committee, which is chaired by Clayton.

"As long as they are willing to learn to some degree, it's OK if they are not an expert already," Jacobs says. "We don't imagine that we will have someone who is an expert in bridges in that role, but as long as they are willing to really look at the report, look at what the recommendations are, connect people, listen and project-manage, then that actually would be someone who would be of real interest to us."

Among the short-term proposals is to improve Gateway Park, a small park at the corner of Granite and Commercial streets, near the entrance to the Millyard from Exit 5 off Interstate 293. Building a second pedestrian bridge across the Merrimack River connecting the Millyard to the West Side, by contrast, is a project organizers acknowledge would take years to come to fruition.

The Hands Across the Merrimack pedestrian bridge, completed in 2008, crosses the river and I-293 and stretches westward near Delta Dental Stadium on the east side to Second Street on the west side. The project cost $2.3 million and was paid for with federal, state, city and private funds. Construction of the project, which used an abandoned railroad trestle, took less than a year, but organizers spent nearly six years raising the money to build it.

"We're laying groundwork for something that will be a few years down the line versus some of the smaller things like Gateway Park, which we can probably do in the next couple of years," Jacobs says. "Some of these are going to be pretty long-term efforts."

To learn more about Manchester Connects and to apply for a seat on the steering committee, visit mhtconnects.org.

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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