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Another hurdle crossed for proposed Nashua arts center

Union Leader Correspondent

February 07. 2018 11:10PM
This artist rendering from Bruner/Cott Architects depicts what the former Alec's shoe store in downtown Nashua could look like if converted into a performing arts center. (courtesy Bruner/Cott Architects)

NASHUA — An aldermanic panel voted Tuesday in support of a proposal to purchase the former Alec’s shoe store, saying even if it is not converted into a performing arts center as intended, the acquisition could still be useful.

“The city is going to be purchasing a prime piece of real estate that, should we not be able to move forward, should have some resale value,” said Alderman Mary Ann Melizzi-Golja of Ward 8.

The Aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee made a favorable recommendation for the proposed $2 million acquisition of the old shoe store at 201 Main St.; the full Board of Aldermen must still vote on the final purchase, as well as a separate $15.5 million bond proposal that includes the $2 million purchase and other funding to transform the downtown building into a theater.

“It is probably a good investment for the city to make anyway, regardless of whether this project moves forward,” said Alderman-at-Large David Tencza.

Tencza said he understands that some people have concerns, maintaining some residents will be unhappy if the project comes to fruition.

“But I think it makes sense for the city. I think it makes sense for our downtown moving forward,” he added.

The overall pricetag of the project includes the $2 million acquisition of the former shoe store, about $11.5 million in construction costs, $1 million in architectural, engineering and legal fees and another $1 million for theater equipment, according to the preliminary plans presented last fall.

Nashua officials are considering whether to purchase the building at 201 Main St. and retrofit it into a performing arts center. This artist rendering from Bruner/Cott Architects depicts the potential for the second-story theater. (courtesy Bruner/Cott Architects)

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 with a 500- to 700-seat theater.

Alderman Brian McCarthy, board president, said the final design has not yet been determined, but said a preliminary architectural analysis was conducted and determined that the building can be retrofitted to meet life safety codes. 

“There is obviously a market and an interest for having something here,” said Melizzi-Golja, adding new apartments are coming to the downtown area and residents want a place to go for entertainment. 

Alderman Ernest Jette, Ward 5, was the only member of the committee who voted against the acquisition. Still, Jette said he believes the project will receive final approval and hopes the city, as a whole, supports the initiative. 

While Jette said he was initially in favor of the arts center, he said he now feels obligated to vote against it since the majority of residents in his ward voted last fall in opposition to a non-binding referendum question seeking guidance on the project. 

“My ward voted against this … so I feel compelled to keep my word and vote against it,” he explained. 

McCarthy, a resident of Ward 5 who supported the project at the polls several months ago, said Tuesday he is “disappointed” that his vote will not count. 

Citywide, the nonbinding referendum question received 5,163 votes in support and 5,016 votes in opposition.

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