The Hippo is reporting that the NHIA will be converting the building that formerly housed the Franco-American Centre into a new student center. This is great news for the Institute and the city.
Over the past decade, NHIA has expanded its scope, footprint and influence in the city, and in turn it has made downtown a more vibrant place to visit, live and work. The Franco-American Centre building on Concord Street will now join several of downtown’s most handsome, pre-war civic buildings around Victory Park as the heart of NHIA’s campus. In addition to these refurbished buildings, the campus includes two of downtown’s most prominent contemporary buildings, both additions to existing buildings on Amherst and Lowell Streets.
NHIA’s reuse and expansion of buildings ranging from Fuller Hall, an imposing former bank, to the old paint shop on Amherst Street not only preserve and adapt the city’s built heritage; they also bring new groups of people to the city center. Along with UNH Manchester and MCPHS, NHIA brings students and faculty downtown, but the Institute is unique in providing a residential campus in the heart of the city. All of the city’s downtown schools–as well as those a few miles away–are major contributors to the city’s diverse cultural scene and overall vibrancy, but having students living as well as studying downtown is hugely important in supporting and attracting local businesses, groups and activities, like the recent pop-up White Flag Gallery on Elm Street.
The area around Victory Park is already a vibrant cultural hub in the city center; in addition to being the center of NHIA’s campus, the park is surrounded by the City Library, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Grace Episcopal Church, YWCA and the Manchester Historic Association. It also hosts the Downtown Farmers Market, and is a short walk from the Palace Theatre. The new building will strengthen the Institute’s presence in the Victory Park area, and the park’s importance within downtown.
Hopefully the increased activity on Concord Street and around Victory Park will lead to new construction in blank lots like the parking lot next to the Franco-American Centre and perhaps eventually the Hartnett Lot north of Victory Park. The 2006 Hillier downtown studies also suggested converting the park-facing side of the Victory parking garage into more active use, with retail on the ground floor, which would be much more appropriate for such a prominent site. The restoration of the old Post Office Fruit Luncheonette next door to the parking garage is another good sign for the continued renewal of the Victory Park area.
It’s no surprise that NHIA and downtown Manchester have been experiencing parallel growth and renewal over the past decade; and it’s great to see that continuing, along with the renaissance of the old Franco-American Centre building, itself. (And yes, I chose the word renaissance because it’s French.)