Parking garage fix leaves city stumped

LACONIA — "I don't think we have the option of doing nothing," said Mayor Ed Engler, speaking of the future of the downtown parking garage, "but I'm not sure what something is."

When the City Council addressed the issue this week, several city councilors appeared reluctant to make a significant investment in the garage, but a number of property owners and business operators urged the council not only to repair but also to improve the facility.

After a lengthy discussion, the council referred the issue to its Land and Buildings Committee, consisting of Councilors Bob Hamel (Ward 5), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), with directions to obtain more detailed estimates of the cost of necessary repairs and potential improvements to the facility.

In September, the parking garage was closed when an inspection found that the structural steel supporting the ramps was weakened by corrosion from exposure to water and salt. Emergency repairs were made to open the garage to the second level, but the third level has remained closed. Dubois & King Inc. completed an assessment of the condition of the parking garage last month and estimates the cost of repairs required to ensure long-term use of the facility at $1.2 million.

City Manager Scott Myers explained that ownership of the garage is "a little bit unique." 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. In other words, the city is responsible for maintaining most of the garage, particularly the ramps to access the privately owned spaces on the second and third levels.

To complicate matters further, Downtown Crossing LLC, which owns the private portion of the facility, has entered a purchase-and-sales agreement to sell its interest to Genesis Behavioral Health, which expires at the end of this year. Furthermore, Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis, advised the council that, along with the time constraint on the purchase-and-sales agreement, the $5.5 million bond issued by the New Hampshire Health and Educational Facilities Authority to fund the purchase and renovation of the property expires in May 2016.

Pritchard told the council that her agency would not acquire the property if the city fails to repair the garage and ensure its long-term use. "I'm not going to buy the building without you," she said.

Likewise, Daniel Disangro of Downtown Crossing LLC said, "Let's do something – and quickly. If you do nothing," he asked, "what happens to me?"

Both Pritchard and Disangro politely declined offers from city councilors to purchase the city's share of the garage for $1.

Engler cautioned Pritchard and Disangro not to expect the council to reach a decision before the end of the year and advised them that the process was likely to take between 90 and 120 days.

Myers told the councilors that because some sections of garage are obscured by fire suppression materials and cannot be inspected, but likely also require repair, he preferred to estimate the cost of repairs at $1.5 million. He said such repairs would extend the life of the ramps between 25 and 30 years, and the decks between 30 and 40 years. In addition, he expected annual maintenance costs to average about $10,000 over the life of the facility.

In addition, the private section of the garage is also in disrepair, though the damage is less extensive. Dubois & King Inc. provided Genesis with an assessment of the private section of the facility, but did not include an estimate of the cost of repairs.

Reading from the assessment of the garage, Hamel warned that "it's going to be a money pit" and called the estimate of $1.5 million for repairs "a low ball." He also reminded the council that for years residents have complained about the condition of the parking garage and many have refused to use it.

Likewise, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) said that the city has spent nearly $500,000 repairing the garage in the last 10 years.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) questioned why the city should invest $1.5 million in repairing the garage, then provide free parking to Genesis. Pritchard replied that Genesis would require about 100 of the 228 spaces in the garage, 36 of which it would own and the remainder it would offer to lease from the city.

"We're not about to let it collapse," said Lipman, who suggested that the parking garage has a role to play in the economic development of downtown.

"Something has to be done, " agreed Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1). "We're can't let it crumble or get worse. We have to fix it."

They were echoed by Randy Eifert of the Beknap Economic Development Council, which in partnership with the city is in the process of renovating and reopening the Colonial Theatre. In an email to the mayor, Eifert stressed the availability of "adequate and quality parking" and encouraged the council to weigh "all options, including a new garage."

Downtown landlords and businessmen joined the chorus, with many stressing the importance of ensuring the presence of Genesis downtown. Pritchard said that the agency intends to house its administrative and clinical services in 26,000 square feet, most of which is currently leased to Grace Capital Church, and the rest is in two vacant units. Genesis would own and lease the space occupied by the Soda Shoppe, Tangerine Green, Wedbush Securities and Moods of Manhattan.

"I'm happy as long as she says she's not going to kick me out," said Mike Soucy of the Soda Shoppe. He went on to say that after rebuilding the Main Street Bridge and constructing the gateway plaza, the city should renovate the garage to extend the improvements up Main Street.

Bob Sawyer said that "the city has an obligation to maintain the garage" and urged the council to "move forward in in a somewhat timely fashion." He noted that a number of downtown businesses, including one of his tenants — the Empire Beauty School — rely on the garage, and the demand for parking will only grow with the reopening of the Colonial Theatre. He called the prospect of Genesis moving "an opportunity" that would bring between 70 and 100 professional people downtown five days a week. Sawyer suggested that the city consider adding an exterior staircase, glassed and lighted, and perhaps an elevator.

Attorney Pat Wood agreed.

"Look at this as an opportunity," he said. "Genesis is a long-term economic boost to downtown. We should move this as quickly as we can."

Closing the discussion, Engler said that along with the support for addressing the structural deficiencies of the garage he sensed that some favor "sprucing it up" and "improving the amenity," which of course would add to the cost of the project.

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Local transient man threatens to kill officer, assaults another one

LACONIA — An area transient faces a variety of charges that range from attempting to commit theft to allegedly assaulting a police sergeant to threatening to shoot one of the officers who brought him to jail.
Police affidavits said Joseph Costello, 23, first came to the attention of police at 6:47 p.m. on Dec. 11 when they were called to Blueberry Lane for two women who said a man was trying to get into her car. She said she was able to get the doors locked.
While filing her report, she saw a man with a coat that was being worn by Costello and pointed him out to the investigating officer who radioed to his sergeant the direction Costello was headed.
The officer said after his sergeant made contact with Costello, he heard him yell out and ran to his assistance. He said Costello was actively resisting the sergeant and was also making furtive movements towards his pockets.
The two officers were able to get Costello into handcuffs and he was searched for weapons. Police found a black case with an uncapped syringe and when asked if he had other needles on him, Costello allegedly said he didn't know while continuing to pull away from them. Police also found a bag with a substance the field tested for crystal methamphetamine.
Police were able to search him to the degree that they were reasonably confident Costello had no more needles. They also found gloves, a flashlight, two pair of sunglasses, a hat and a bandanna on him.
The arresting officer went to get his cruiser and learned that while he was gone, Costello allegedly grabbed the sergeant's right leg with a great deal of force.
Once the officer had Costello in his cruiser, he met two additional people who said Costello had tried to get into their apartment.
Costello was brought to Lakes Region General Hospital to be examined for possible drug ingestion. Once at the hospital, affidavits said Costello raised his foot in the air as if to kick the transporting officer, who said he was able to grab him in a way that prevented him from kicking. Costello said he thought the officer was going to cut off his genitals.
Affidavits said that after Costello was medically cleared by hospital personnel, the arresting officer brought him to the Belknap County House of Corrections. During the transport, the officer said Costello kept asking him for a cigarette and a shot, saying Costello was very agitated.
His report said that Costello continually threatened to "kick his ass" once he got out of jail. When Costello requested the services of a bail commissioner, bail was set at $5,000. Costello continued to struggle with jail officials and told the arresting officer he was "going to put a bullet in his head" once he got out.
Costello has previous convictions for criminal trespass, three for resisting arrest, hindering apprehension, three for simple assault, one for criminal threatening, one for breach of bail, and one for simple assault – domestic violence related.
For his alleged actions on Dec. 11, Costello is facing one count of attempting to commit theft, one count of breach of bail, one count of loitering, one count of disorderly conduct, one count of criminal for threatening, two counts of resisting arrest, one count of simple assault on a police officer, one count of criminal trespass, one count of attempted criminal trespass, one felony count of possession of narcotic drugs and one count of felony "improper influence" or threatening harm to a public servant by saying he "would put a bullet in his head."

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Institute for the Arts downtown still in the works

LACONIA — The city could become home to the Lakes Region Institute for the Arts if the initiative of a pair of musicians, Ryan Ordway and Franz Haase of the Recording Co-Op in Gilford, comes to fruition.

When Ordway and Haase opened their recording studio in 2014, they were already eyeing a grand project, an institute offering education and instruction for aspiring artists of all ages in performing and songwriting as well as audio and video engineering. Recently they have begun to pursue their vision in earnest.

"We have formed a nonprofit corporation, the Lakes Region Institute for the Arts," Ordway said Monday. He explained that originally the institute was intended for Wolfeboro, but on reflection they chose to
take a regional approach located in Laconia.

"It's going to take a community, several communities, to make it happen," he said.

Ordway anticipates financing the project with a mix of grant funding and private donations while at the same time drawing on his connections in the music business. He has recorded for television shows, including "The Office," and worked with both ESPN and NESN. He recently placed a survey online designed to measure interest and support for the project in the community and described the initial response as "really awesome." He counted more than 150 positive responses in the first few weeks. The link to the survey is www.surveymonkey/r/Letsbuild it.

"It will be a like mini music school," Ordway said, explaining that half the cost of tuition would be offset by scholarships. He said the cooperative has already worked with schools in the region, including Moultonborough Academy, Inter-Lakes High School, Prospect Mountain High School, and anticipates complementing the curriculum offered by the schools with instruction in audio and video engineering.
Meanwhile, Ordway has become a member of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, which is promoting the survey, and approached the Belknap Economic Development Commission.

"We've begun looking for a building or space in downtown Laconia," he said, adding that he was especially impressed by the Garden Theater at 634 Main St. The ideal venue would have space for teaching and rehearsal rooms, audio and video studios, and a sound stage.

A well-traveled singer-songwriter, Ordway recalled the project began five years ago when he met Franz Haase, a fellow musician, owner of the Folk Cellar in Wolfeboro and mainstay of the local arts community. They opened a small recording studio — Resort Recordings — and began pursuing plans to foster what Ordway called "a community of musicians."
Last year, Ordway and Haase moved their operation to Gilford, where, together they formed the nucleus of the Recording Co-Op.

"It began as a private thing," Ordway said, "for our band, Ordway, and our music."
Investing more than $100,000, they converted the horse barn to a recording studio, featuring a vintage mixing console acquired from Audio Magic, a studio in Buffalo, New York. Haase noted that Ani DeFranco recorded her first four albums on the console, which also laid down the voices of the Goo Goo Dolls and Willie Nelson.

"It's got a history," he said.

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