Starting today, downtown Concord will host its 40th annual Market Days Festival, which runs for three days through Saturday July 19. The festival is a celebration of the Capital City’s downtown, with Main Street closed to traffic and sidewalks lined with vendors and entertainment.
Local businesses and organizations apparently saw the value in putting themselves in front of the more than 50,000 people who attended last year, as this year’s festival will host nearly 200 booths, tents, stages, miniature golf courses and even a temporary park. As NHPR reports, in addition to the “sidewalk sales, food vendors, live music, and other activities,” the event heightens a sense of community in downtown Concord.
It begs the question: if Concord, a city of little over 40,000 people, can pull of such an event, why can’t Manchester? Next weekend, Arms Park will host the first annual Granite State Brewers Association Summer Festival, and Intown Manchester runs the ongoing Summer Concert Series in Veterans Park, but there’s no event in Manchester that captures the same spirit of celebration, community and even commerce as the Market Days Festival in Concord.
During his time as mayor, Robert Baines, along with the Hippo and others, spearhead the Jazz & Blues Festival, which ran for a weekend each summer for a number of years in the early 2000s. The festival featured musicians on several stages on and around Hanover Street, but it also provided a showcase for local businesses and organizations. And it offered a reason for people of all ages and walks of life to congregate downtown. It was such a hit that years after it was last held, it is still touted on websites from the MEDO (the City’s Economic Development Office)’s profile of downtown to Kiplinger’s list of the 10 best cities for retirees. It wasn’t just a celebration of music it showcased, but of downtown Manchester itself. Continue reading Learning from Concord: a festival for downtown→
The overall goal is to create a stronger sense of place, and strengthen downtown Manchester’s position as a prime location for business, as an urban residential area, and increasingly as a destination for the creative and tourism economy in New England. To that end, the report identified four overarching priorities:
Develop & implement a multi-year branding and marketing initiative, to strengthen the identity of downtown (and the city as a whole) throughout the region and within the city
Increase residential density downtown, including a range of market-rate housing options from affordable to luxury units (an increased retail presence will follow an increase in residential population downtown)
New Hampshire may not be getting a casino this year (for better or worse), but that doesn’t mean that cities like Manchester can’t do more to attract visitors, not to mention residents and workers. Last month we wrote about all the good things happening and being planned in downtown Manchester, and how city leaders–beginning with the mayor–need to take more of a, well, leading role in guiding the future of downtown if it’s really going to thrive.
One of the major things that city leaders need to promote, we wrote, is a better connection between the Millyard and riverfront with Elm Street and the heart of downtown. This was identified as one of the most important topics at Intown Manchester’s Next Steps Summit in February, and we wrote last month that we’d be talking about that idea more the following week. Well, clearly we’re late on that, but here are some specific ideas of what how that could be accomplished.
We first wrote about the need to bridge the divide–literally the former series of canals–between Elm Street and the Millyard back in September 2011. And since then, we’ve been glad to hear that need mentioned by many other people and organizations–connecting the riverfront, the employment center of the Millyard, and the nightlife and dining center of Elm Street would remarkably transform downtown Manchester.
The riverfront is only about a quarter-mile–only three or four blocks–from Elm Street, but the desolate, highway-like expanse of Canal Street, and the lack of any retail, dining or other attractions along the way makes the distance feel much farther. It’s not a pleasant walk or an easy drive (and parking is tough at both ends) between the Millyard and Elm Street. The free Green DASH bus that loops between the two is great, but in order for the two areas to really feel tied together, there needs to be an enjoyable walking experience along streets that run through the old Amoskeag rowhouses like Spring, Stark and Market. In the block between Canal and Elm, those streets are beautiful, tree-lined and even feature some small businesses and restaurants (though not nearly enough). If the City takes the lead to improve Canal Street and promote more retail and dining options both in the old rowhouses and along the riverfront in the Millyard, development and private investment will follow.
Here’s a satellite image of what the area looks like now:
Before the new guiding plan for downtown is released, some of the things envisioned at February’s Next Steps Summit are coming to fruition. The summit, attended by over 100 people, sought community input as Intown Manchester prepares to draft a plan to guide the growth of downtown in the coming years. Housing was touted as a catalyst for future growth downtown, and for helping the area grow beyond its dining, nightlife and entertainment base.
As one of the city’s major developers, Arthur Sullivan of Brady Sullivan, said: “Once more people start living downtown again, you are going to see a downtown renaissance, and it won’t just be restaurants.”
The Amoskeag mills made Manchester. They are the most prominent feature of the city as seen from I-293 on the west side of the Merrimack—a low, long skirt to the city’s newer, taller buildings up the hill along Elm Street. Though little manufacturing takes place in the mills anymore (beer from the city’s lone brewpub being one of the last vestiges of production there), they remain crucial to the city’s economy, housing many of its largest employers and best-known businesses. To this day, the Millyard remains the most iconic symbol of Manchester, and the heart of the Queen City.
Yet despite being only a few blocks apart, the Millyard is too far removed from Elm Street and the bustle of downtown. The canals and gates that once surrounded the Millyard are long gone, as are nearly all of the smaller-scale accessory buildings that once lined the canals and filled the spaces between the remaining, larger buildings. In their absence are the scars of Manchester’s urban renewal efforts of the 1970s and 1980s—where 19th industrialism was shrouded in austere Victorian beauty, the 20th century renewal was all business: the ugly, highway feeling of Canal Street and the adjacent rail line, and parking lots and vacant spaces scattered throughout the Millyard.
Arms Park and the Merrimack River are less than a five-minute walk from Elm Street, but none of the routes there pass many—if any—retail establishments, parks or other draws to entice pedestrians. Worse, once past the old boardinghouses (and the recently, very well done, new sidewalks and streetscape improvements along West Merrimack, Middle, Market and Stark Streets), pedestrians must pass through the automobile-oriented wasteland of Canal and Bedford Streets and what feels like the backside of the Millyard. And as bustling as the Millyard is during business hours, there are far too few restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to attract people past Canal Street, and almost no options for those who would like to live in the brick-walled, airy spaces with river and city views.
Currently, the Millyard functions more like a financial district or business park—albeit an especially beautiful one that forms a lovely backdrop for the city—rather than a dynamic district or neighborhood connected to the rest of downtown Manchester. The good news is that there have been plenty of planning proposals, policies and schemes drawn up to better tie the Millyard and river with Elm Street; and it really wouldn’t take much to make that happen.
A new piece of public art is being dedicated today at the intersection of Granite and Old Granite Streets, and in LivableMHT’s view, Crosswalk is certainly one of the most interesting and appealing pieces of art added to the city center in some time. With Origins at the Currier, Bull at the Riverwalk foot bridge, Vivace at the Verizon, and now Crosswalk along the Granite Street gateway, not to mention numerous restoration projects, the past half-decade has seen an impressive renaissance of urban art in the Queen City.
Crosswalk is poised at a major gateway to downtown, and could help bring new life to the promising, but slowly redeveloping Gaslight District. While the eventual intermodal transit center may have to be located elsewhere downtown now, the bronze and granite sculpture faces the historic (and until recently planned) site of the city’s major train station. It’s great to imagine people, one day soon, disembarking from a train, walking up the gentle hill of Old Granite past shops and restaurants and on to the arena, pausing to view the sculpture that depicts the very act of walking around and being in a city.
The design guidelines, incorporated into the city’s zoning in 2003, call for a pedestrian-oriented group of small districts designed specifically to attract new residents, interesting shops, and a vibrant nightlife to complement the Verizon Wireless Arena. The renderings and recommendations in the guidelines are exciting on their own, but news of increased requests and interest is very promising.