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Nashua aldermen nix $15.5 million arts center proposal

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent

September 12. 2017 11:47PM
A proposal to spend $15.5 million to convert the former Alec's Shoes building into an arts venue was rejected by Nashua aldermen on Thursday. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

NASHUA — Despite pleas from dozens of city residents eager to have a new downtown performing arts center, aldermen on Tuesday rejected a proposal to spend $15.5 million to convert the former Alec’s Shoes building into an arts venue.

The board did agree, however, to place a non-binding question on the November ballot asking voters whether aldermen should authorize a bond for a future arts center.

“Mr. Mayor, the taxpayers are maxed out,” said Alderman Don LeBrun, one of six aldermen who voted in opposition of the proposed bond.

Eight aldermen voted in support of the proposal, but 10 votes were needed to approve the financing for the project.

Dozens of residents came out to voice support for the arts center on Tuesday. “This will be a source of pride in our city,” Cheryl Lindner of Great American Downtown said prior to the vote, adding the new facility would represent the future of Nashua, grow the arts and encourage a cultural spirit.

The overall price tag includes a $2 million acquisition of the building at 201 Main St., about $11.5 million in construction costs, $1 million in architectural, engineering and legal fees and another $1 million for theater equipment.

“Some people are skeptical and I certainly understand that, but I don’t agree with running Nashua down. We are a great city with tremendous potential,” said Mayor Jim Donchess.

He said the project is not only commercially viable, but will help create an economic, vibrant downtown.

In addition to the $15.5 million bond, fundraising efforts would have been necessary to establish a $4 million private endowment fund to help with initial operational costs — financing that must be gathered within two years, and money that must be secured before construction began.

“We recognize this is a significant undertaking for the city, and that there are costs involved,” said Tracy Hatch, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

However, Hatch said the arts center would help bring people downtown, enhance the city’s vibrancy and attract young people to the community.

Paul Shea, executive director of Great American Downtown, submitted an online survey with 510 signatures of support, along with notarized signatures from nearly 200 proponents.

Bruner/Cott Architects and Webb Management Services, Inc. of New York have already drafted conceptual design plans to convert the 30,000-square-foot building into an art venue.

But that did not convince Alderman-at-Large David Deane.

“I see a lot of priorities in this community that need to be met,” he said, stressing concern about how far the city’s dollars can stretch.

“This is not fully self-supporting,” said former alderman Fred Teeboom, maintaining the $15.5 million bond will actually cost taxpayers $21 million to pay back over 20 years.

His concerns were echoed by Paula Johnson, another former city alderman who said the project should be a private initiative with private financing. In addition, the $4 million endowment fund should already be secured before the project advances further, she said.

Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty, who could not attend Tuesday’s meeting because of a work obligation, said in a written statement that, “The opponents to this bond are not against an art center, they are against overspending.”

khoughton@newstote.com


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