Correction: MTRC no longer exists

CORRECTION — An article in Thursday's edition of The Daily Sun mistakenly referred to a meeting of the Motorcycle Technical Review Committee (MTRC). This committee, which reviewed site plans for vendors and other aspects of Motorcycle Week, no longer exists. In 2013 it was replaced by the Special Events Review Committee, which assumed its responsibilities for Motorcycle Week as well as oversees other special events like the Pumpkin Festival and holiday celebrations.

Local DHHS office on chopping block

LACONIA – The Laconia District office of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at 65 Beacon Street West is one of four that could be closed to under consideration to fulfill a provision of the 2016-17 state budget requiring the department to consolidate district offices to reduce general fund appropriations to the agency by $1 million in each year of the biennium.

In an e-mail sent to district office staff on Thursday, Nick Toumpas, the commissioner of DHHS, confirmed that along with Laconia, offices in Claremont, Conway and Rochester have also been identified for closure. He noted that the savings would be achieved by "consolidation of district offices and associated reduction in lease expenses."

Toumpas reminded employees that although both the House of Representatives and the Senate included the provision in their respective versions of the budget, the budget process has not reached its conclusion.

"In short," he wrote, "this is not final," cautioning that "it is premature to speculate about any proposed change." At the same time, he stressed, "... this is not a proposal that contemplates any reduction in staff." But, he conceded, "when we take whatever actions we need to, they may create a change in travel time to different workplace – an increase or a decrease in commute."

There are 62 employees working in the Laconia District office with 11,938 open cases. The office serves the city of Laconia and 25 towns (Alexandria, Alton, Ashland, Barnstead, Belmont, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Center Harbor, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Gilford, Gilmanton, Hebron, Holderness, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Thornton, Tilton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth) .

State Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) said that the prospect of closing district offices was "one of many reasons I voted against the budget." He said that Concord will likely be the closest office to those in the Laconia catchment area, which will represent a hardship for whom access to transportation is an issue. "This cut was made to get to a number," he said. "Not to encourage the department to run a more efficient operation."

3 downtown buildings bought by local entrepreneurs

LACONIA — The prospects for downtown brightened last month as three properties changed hands, each purchased by a different local owner, but together presenting an investment of nearly $800,000 in the center of the city.

Charlie St. Clair, owner and operator of the Laconia Antique Center doing business as Casablanca Industries LLC, acquired the building at the corner of Main and Hanover streets, where the business has operated since 2011. The purchase price was $315,000. Originally a J.J. Newberry's five and dime store, the 14,000-square-foot building long housed the popular Bloom's Variety Store, which closed in 2008.

"I like downtown Laconia," said St. Clair. "I like the urban feel to it and believe it has great potential." He said that his business, leasing space to some 150 antique dealers, has "done well downtown," but acknowledged that since traffic on Main Street has been detoured to facilitate reconstruction of the Main Street Bridge business has slowed.

"Financially it made more sense to buy the building than to go on leasing," St. Clair explained. "It's a great building," he continued, adding that he expected to "spiff it up some."

Just up the street, the Condodemetraky brothers — Chris and Mark — doing business as Levendi Properties LLC, purchased the Piscopo Block at 633-637 Main St. for $392,500. More than half the building will become the headquarters of GC Engineering, the brothers' civil engineering firm specializing in flood plain management.

"We employ eight people and we're expanding," said Chris. The ground floor is leased to four successful commercial tenants — MC Cycle & Sport, All My Life Jewelers., Greenlaw's Music and Attorney David Bownes.

"We're excited to be downtown," Mark said. He described access to high speed internet service as "a gamechanger" and a significant factor in the success of their engineering business. They said that they expect downtown to undergo a revival — "to improve dramatically," adding: "We want to be part of it, to be part of the solution."

A mainstay of Main Street, Daub's Cobbler Shop, will move to 24 Canal St. by next month. Jim Daubenspeck purchased the building for $75,000 and expanded the size of his shop from 900 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

"It's more of a risk with higher up-front costs," he said, "but you control your own space and your own destiny." Although his business continues to grow, he remarked, "I still tell everybody who wears shoes to tell their friends about it." Daubenspeck noted that while the move would not lead to a significant change in the nature of the business, he expects to expand his retail inventory of high quality footwear.

"I looked at space in Meredith, Gilford and Belmont," Daubenseck admitted, "but I realized the smartest place for me to be is right here in downtown Laconia. Everybody who is here wants to be here," he continued, "and with more owner-occupied buildings it will be a great place to do business."