Republican former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan, a candidate for mayor of Manchester, hosted a downtown business roundtable at the Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant on Elm Street, where attendees voiced concerns over the homeless, drug use and the perception by some that downtown Manchester is “unsafe.”

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“We all know what the issues are in this city,” said Andrew Thistle, owner of the new Cheddar & Rye on Hanover Street. “The problem that we’ve been having is that any time a suggestion comes up about what we can do to fix it, it gets shot down, whether it’s due to pressure from the ACLU or pressure from New Hampshire court systems, or things like that. It’s almost like everyone’s hands are tied in making the change. The question that business owners have is how long is everyone’s hands going to be tied before the community takes matters into their own hands? There’s been a lot of talk recently about, well, if the police can’t police the streets, that’s what the mob started as, because when the police can’t police the streets the people have to. Unfortunately, that’s almost what the mentality is breeding downtown.”

“You can feel the tension rising downtown,” Sullivan said. “I don’t bring my kids downtown.”

“That’s why we’re suffering as businesses as a result, because people aren’t coming out like they used to,” Thistle said. “It’s been the slowest year for a lot of local businesses that have been here forever. People just don’t want to come downtown; they feel unsafe.”

Thistle was asked about statistics that showed crime in Manchester continued a downward trend in 2018, with serious crime down 3% and violent crime down 9%.

“You look at the statistics and Manchester is not unsafe, but what they don’t take into consideration is there are dirty needles downtown,” Thistle said. “That makes it unsafe. I’m not going to walk with my child when there are needles rolling around town. Those are things that are viewed as unsafe, more than ‘Oh, I’m going to be assaulted by someone.’ That’s not a common occurrence.”

One of the more interesting concerns raised at the roundtable was the negative impact police responses to incidents downtown can have on a business.

Sullivan said she participated in a ride along with a Manchester police officer and saw an overdose outside the Thirsty Moose.

“It was a beautiful Friday night, and people were outside eating with their families and had to see this,” Sullivan said.

“Now cops are pulling up outside the Moose, and now anyone driving by thinks they’re there as a result of something that happened at the Moose,” Thistle said. “You drive by and see six cruisers, you think ‘the cops are always at that place.’ ”

“It gives your business a bad reputation,” Sullivan said. “That’s something that I wouldn’t have even thought of from your perspective.”

Tim Baines, alderman for Ward 3 and owner of the downtown restaurant Mint Bistro, said one of the common issues he hears about is what happens after the police are notified.

“You notice when they come down and try to deal with an issue and their hands are tied,” Baines said. “I think I’ve seen some fatigue from owners wanting to even make that phone call and sort of chuckling when that’s the continuous narrative to call to support the numbers for an issue that’s very clear. I’ve had officers say ‘I can’t do anything; I have a 35-page document on my desk from the ACLU and we can’t do this.”

Sullivan said she felt the roundtable initiated good conversations on downtown issues.

“I was surprised to hear that when police show up it affects their business in a negative way,” Sullivan said. “That was concerning to me. I was thinking of their day-to-day struggles, but that is a part of it I wasn’t thinking of. The first piece of any puzzle is listening, hearing people out, then coming together to find a solution. That’s really what’s important to me.”

Intown Manchester will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new park and mural on Tuesday at 11 a.m. at 1140 Elm St.

The new greenspace, dubbed Lamont Hanley Park, will be located next to Lamont Hanley and Associates, on the corner of Bridge and Elm streets. The space is currently an undeveloped lot owned by the city. Last year aldermen approved plans to turn the lot into a gateway park entering downtown from Bridge Street.

“I drove by the Lamont Hanley building every day and thought that would be a great place for a mural, said Sara Beaudry, executive director of Intown Manchester, in a statement. “I reached out to the property management company, REI Service Corporation and they put me in touch with Michelle Hanley, who currently owns 1138 Elm St. We talked about the mural and Michelle, an avid gardener, thought a mural depicting an outdoor scene would be a wonderful addition to the location.”

Beaudry worked with Mayor Joyce Craig, city Parks and Recreation Director Don Pinard and Park Planner Chris Sullivan, who put together a rendering of what a park might look like in the space.

Between REI and the Hanley and Lamont families, enough money was raised to fund a park in memory of Jack Hanley and Joe Lamont, who recently passed away.

“I would like to thank Intown Manchester, REI Service Corporation and Mayor Craig and aldermen for their time and hard work in making this park project a reality,” Michelle Hanley said in a statement. “Jack was always a proponent of the continuing growth, beauty and prosperity of downtown Manchester. This park is a wonderful tribute to both him and Joe.”

“Joe and Jack would have been very humbled by this honor,” Rita Lamont added. “Joe was always a big proponent of small business in Manchester. The creation of this park for all to enjoy would have pleased him immensely. I would like to thank everyone involved for their efforts in making this happen.”

Keith Trahan, a local Manchester artist, will design the mural. The park and mural are set to be complete by early August.

“The mural will be the cherry on top,” Beaudry said.

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Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.

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