Plans to demolish city parking garage called off – for now


LACONIA — The City Council has shelved a proposal to demolish the downtown parking garage and construct a new parking garage on the 1.8 acre lot to the north of City Hall, but Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), the author and champion of the proposal, said he intends to pursue it.
The council has been wrestling with the future of the downtown parking garage since last fall when it was closed to addressed structural deficiencies.
"Putting any more money into that garage would be a mistake," Bownes told the council. Instead, he proposed building a three-story garage with space for 314 vehicles at a cost of between $4.7 million and $6.3 million. He explained that the cost of the project can be reduced by financing it in conjunction with the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, which includes investments from New Market Tax Credits, a federal program that offers incentives for private investors to fund projects in low-income communities.
Bownes's plan calls for the city to sell the lot to the Belknap Economic Development Council for a nominal sum. The BEDC would then construct the garage, funding two-thirds of the cost, or $4 million, with money borrowed from the city. The city would lease the facility back from BEDC for $200,000 a year, slightly more than the interest the city charged for its loan. The New Market Tax Credit program would require BEDC to own the garage for seven years, after which the city would purchase it for $4 million, or the principal of its original loan to BEDC.
At the same time, Bownes proposed charging a fee for all public parking spaces, both on the street in and in the garage in downtown, an area from Busy Corner to Beacon Street West and including the spaces on New Salem Street behind the railroad station. He projected metered parking to yield between $500,000 and $700,000 in annual revenue, which would defray a share of the cost of building and maintaining the new garage. "The revenue will be enough to drive this project through to the end," he said.
"We cannot do nothing," Bownes said. "We need downtown parking." Pointing to the reopening of the Colonial Theatre, he said that "to ask everyone to park in a dungeon is crazy." The existing garage, he continued, should be demolished and the property redeveloped.
"I appreciate your enthusiasm," said Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), "and I don't disagree with you."
However, he expressed misgivings about foreclosing the prospect of commercial or residential development by building a parking garage on the riverfront lot. When Hamel seemed to favor repairing the existing garage, Bownes countered "You would confirm the blight of urban renewal."
Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) questioned repairing the garage. "There's an old saying about putting lipstick on a pig," she said.
Speaking in support of Bownes, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) said, "We have to go all in."
Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said he was loathe to put money into the existing garage and added there is no harm in putting a garage next to City Hall because "No one will pay money to look at the river. There's no view there."
Several speakers also expressed enthusiasm for the proposal. "We need to make a decision to move forward with a new parking facility," said attorney Pat Wood, "and City Hall is really the only place it could go."
Former mayor Matt Lahey said "This could be the beginning of correcting a mistake made 50 years ago" and urged the council "to take down the garage and come up with another solution."
Lahey reminded the council that the city does not own the entire parking garage, but has an obligation to maintain most of it. In fact, the ramps and north end of the second and third levels, including the northernmost stairwell, are owned by the city. The ground floor of the garage, except for the ramps, and the south end of the second and third levels, including the southernmost stairwell, along with seven commercial units on the ground level, are privately owned.
However, Mayor Ed Engler disclosed that at a nonpublic meeting the council agreed to purchase the privately owned portion of the garage, consisting of 36 spaces on the second and third decks, for $1, effectively extinguishing its legal obligation to ensure access to the 36 spaces by maintaining the ramps.
"The choice," said Engler, "is not between spending $3 million to repair the parking garage or building a new garage for $6 million." He said that constructing a new garage is "premature," noting that no projects underway, particularly the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, are contingent on an expansion of downtown parking.
Engler also questioned the cost of the new garage, explaining that seven years of lease payments of $200,000 together with the $4 million to purchase the garage would amount to some $5 million. Moreover, he called Bownes's proposal for metered parking "an idea that needs to be vetted," adding that the revenue estimates, along with the cost of installing meters or kiosks and enforcing the parking regulations, must be more precise. "I think you've got an idea, but not a plan," he said.
When Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) suggested the council "continue the conversation," Bownes said he intended to refine his proposal and present it at the next meeting in two weeks. "There is risk and it's time to take some," he said. "I got a plan and I got a way to pay for it."

Amanda McCarthy brings her talents to LaconiaFest (


LACONIA — Opening for Steven Tyler Wednesday night at LaconiaFest is a local musician by the name of Amanda McCarthy. Based in Hampton, she frequently plays shows in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts and recently came to the Lakes Region to perform at Inspire Music in Franklin. One's musical genre is often hard to put into words and for Amanda it's changed over the years, but in performance with her backing band she defines her music as "indie-pop-rock."
"Since I was 4, I've been telling everybody 'I want to be a singer when I grow up,'" she said, and the dream has stuck with her all the way up to the present day. She began singing at school events at the age of 12 and started singing at outside events at the age of 14. When her cousin entered a talent show in Salem, Massachusetts, she decided to give it a try as well and finished first. That was the end of 2007, when she was just a singer. At the age of 15, she picked up the guitar and started playing a lot of her original songs.

"As far as finding my voice in songwriting," she said, "I started that when I was 13, but it was when I picked up guitar that I really dove into it."
She has been working on both her songwriting, singing, and guitar work ever since and credits most of her talent to hard work and practice.

"I've been lucky," she said,"but I also haven't had things handed to me." She calls herself lucky because she has met the right people for her development as a musician and performer, and much of this to her performance at smaller venues. Although she has been asked to open for Steven Tyler and has a few other gigs coming up that aren't in your typical small-venue environment, she still likes to perform at smaller venues because, she said, "I've met some of the greatest people at some of the smallest shows."
Her versatility as a musician allows her allows her to play for a variety of audiences, switching from singer-songwriter type of work to fuller work with a backing band. She'd played mostly by herself for a number of years but in January found a group of backing musicians she can rely on. Another aspect of her versatility is her ability to draw from a variety of influences. "When I started, I was very much a Taylor Swift wannabe," she says, "because she really got me to pick up the guitar." McCarthy says she had a pop-country sound at first, but this has since changed. She first dropped the country sound, something that she says made her sound like Colbie Caillat, and afterwards listened to Fall Out Boy and similar artists which gave her music more of a rock sound.

"The songs I write are still very much structured like pop songs," she said, "but the rock sound is definitely what gets me going."
She credits working with a full band – the group she'll be playing with on Wednesday – with support, giving her more confidence as well as the ability to work on songs that have more of a rock edge to them. "I'd have these ideas for rockier songs but would think well that's not something I can pull off with just an acoustic and would back of from writing it. Or I'd write it and not play it because it didn't sound right acoustic." She says of being in a band that can truly get the sound she desires: "It leaves me not afraid to write, not afraid to have an idea and therefore much more confident."
You can catch Amanda with her full backing band this Wednesday before the Steven Tyler show at Laconia's Drive-In Theater as part of LaconiaFest.

06-15 Amanda McCarthy

Amanda McCarthy of Hampton will be one of the opening acts for Steven Tyler at LaconiaFest Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

17 arrests at Bank of NH Pavilion Saturday

GILFORD – The Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion kept Gilford Police dancing as they made 17 arrests or detentions during Saturday's show.

By contrast, there were no arrests or detentions at Friday's Ringo Starr All Star Band show.

Lt. Kris Kelley said most of the detentions made at Saturday's show were for intoxication and arrests were for under-aged drinking. He said one person was arrested for drugs and falsifying evidence, one for resisting arrest and criminal threatening and a local man, Derek Emans, was picked up on an outstanding bench warrant from Laconia.

Kelley said Saturday's policing needs were on a par with other major shows at the outdoor music venue.

– Gail Ober