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Nashua aldermen to once again consider $15.5m arts center

Union Leader Correspondent

January 08. 2018 9:29PM
Bruner/Cott Architects and Webb Management Services, Inc. of New York previously drafted conceptual design plans to convert the former Alec's shoe store building into an art venue with a theater. Four months after rejecting the $15.5 million proposal, Nashua aldermen are once again considering the project. (Kimberly Houghton/Correspondent)

NASHUA — With new aldermen sworn in and a new calendar year underway, Mayor Jim Donchess has once again submitted a proposal seeking a $15.5 million bond to purchase the former Alec’s shoe store and convert it into a performing arts center — a proposal that was rejected by the former Board of Aldermen four months ago.

Despite the rejection by aldermen last September, a non-binding referendum question was narrowly supported by voters last November for the downtown arts center.

On Tuesday, the new slate of aldermen will be presented with the first reading of the proposed resolution once again. Although the board is not expected to discuss the matter, it will be assigned to an aldermanic committee for further review.

Eight new aldermen that did not vote on the proposal last September are now sitting on the board and will have a say in whether the project comes to fruition.

The proposed bond includes $2 million to purchase the property at 201 Main St., although the actual acquisition will be considered in a separate proposal also being reintroduced to the board on Tuesday.

“No borrowing for the renovation or construction of a new performing arts center, except for costs related to acquiring and securing (for safety and security purposes) the property anticipated to be used as a new performing arts center, shall occur until such time as the mayor has determined that private funds totaling at least $4 million, to be used towards a portion of the operating costs of such new performing arts center, have been raised,” states the mayor’s newest proposal.

Last September, eight aldermen voted in support of a nearly identical proposal, but 10 votes were needed to approve the financing for the project.

The six aldermen who voted in opposition were Don LeBrun, David Deane, Mark Cookson, Ken Siegel, David Schoneman and Sean McGuinness — all aldermen who have either resigned or were ousted from their seats during the November election.

The overall price-tag 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.

Bruner/Cott Architects and Webb Management Services, Inc. of New York have already drafted conceptual design plans to convert the 30,000-square-feet building into an art venue with a 500- to 700-seat theater.

“This is the perfect storm. I don’t know when this opportunity is going to come around again,” Alderman-at-Large Michael O’Brien said earlier.

Others, including former alderman Deane who opposed the bond in September, said previously that there are many priorities that need to be met in the community, stressing his concern about how far the dollars can stretch.

Siegel maintained that the financial numbers for the project do not work, but said previously that a dying downtown also isn’t sensible.

Arts Local and County Government Nashua

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