An ambitious plan to revitalize Berlin’s downtown and make it the social and economic focus of the city is finished and now officials are looking around for millions of dollars to carry it out.
"The downtown is the heart of the community. If people come through our downtown and don’t feel it is alive the people will pass on and go to another community,” said Sylvia Poulin, the chairperson of the Main Street Program.
“But, if we make our downtown alive and vital and vibrant then people will stop,” she said in an interview. “It is all about economic development. It is about tourism development. It is about a good feeling in the community. It is about pride in our community.”
The plan was presented recently at a public meeting in the Berlin City Hall. It assembled by three firms: Arnett Development Group, John Wacker & Associates and HEB Engineers.
The downtown stretches between Memorial Park and St. Anne Church.
The goal is a symbiotic blend of apartments and businesses that will attract not just tourists but people living in surrounding neighborhoods.
“What we are building here is a community. What we are building here is a home,” said Stuart Arnett, the managing partner of the Arnett Development Group.
It would also be pedestrian friendly area and make use of open spaces for parks and activities such as a farmer’s market.
“The downtown is blessed with a lot of open spaces,” said landscape architect John Wacker of Wacker & Associates.
In particular he noted the extensive parkland along the river which is owned by Public Service of New Hampshire. The utility has promised to cooperate with the city for the use of that land.
“Here we have a park that is a sleeping giant,” he said.
Arnett said a thriving downtown would be better for the city economically than trying to launch an industrial park.
The trick is funding the project. Estimates range from $10 million to $15 million.
The project could get a boost with federal funding and accomplish a great deal in the next three to five years, said Pam Laflamme, the city’s planner. But that will depend on how much Congress cuts funding for federal programs.
However, the city will also have to contribute funds. One estimate is about $150,000 a year for a decade.
Roughly two thirds of what happens should be privately funded,” said Arnett.
Some attempts at revitalization have already begun. Just down Main Street from City Hall is the Winterland Market Place. Scott Gregory bought that building in June 2008 when its previous occupant moved to Lancaster.
It wasn’t easy fixing up a 100-year-old building, he said. But it now houses a small restaurant – Tea Birds Restaurant and Café - and three boutiques. He’s enthusiastic about the Main Street Program.
“I think it is fantastic,” he said.
Meanwhile, Poulin acknowledges there’s a huge job ahead.
“It is going to take a lot of volunteer hours, it is going to take a lot of money, it is going to take a buy-in from the businesses,” she said. “We have to keep moving forward. Sometimes we are going to take two steps forward and one step back but we have to keep plugging ahead,” she said.
The full report can be found here.