Brenda Baer - Laconia's fortune lies in tourism

  • Published in Columns

When we run for the City Council we tell the public what we will do to improve the lives of the people living here and how we want to create or increase revenues for the city, and create jobs which in turn will mean lower taxes and money available for necessary projects. We have built new elementary schools, a middle school, now additions and renovations to Huot Technical School. We have a jewel of a newly renovated and addition to the library, a new police station, and some are now trying ...

When we run for the City Council we tell the public what we will do to improve the lives of the people living here and how we want to create or increase revenues for the city, and create jobs which in turn will mean lower taxes and money available for necessary projects. We have built new elementary schools, a middle school, now additions and renovations to Huot Technical School. We have a jewel of a newly renovated and addition to the library, a new police station, and some are now trying to acquire the state prison property. While all of these projects certainly give the city high marks, they are projects costing a lot of money and while aesthetically improving the city, they have not contributed to creating permanent jobs or tax revenues for a city that is predominately on the aging side.

On January 28, 2008, city director of planning Shanna Saunders sent a memo to the City Council re the EPA Smart Growth Report, a summary outline. The analysis reached five major conclusions:

1. Housing prices in the Laconia area have increased far more rapidly than incomes, making housing affordability an issue of concern for some segments of Laconia’s population.

2. The city suffers from retail leakage, and does not capture the full buying power of its residents.

3. There are not enough people living in either Lakeport or Weirs Beach to support a significant year-round concentration of retail activity.

4. The conversion of weekly rental properties into second homes has led to declining use of seasonal tourist attractions and has changed the nature of visitor-serving businesses in the city.

5. Bike Week creates competing forces. It provides a highly profitable retail period for some businesses in Weirs Beach, but this freezes key properties in their current uses.

These five trends characterize the opportunities and challenges for Laconia’s continued prosperity.

As you can see, this report is four years old and nothing has changed. Isn’t it clear that what is needed is less spending on things that can wait for better times, and more concentration on initiating programs that will enhance and increase our tourism industry and thus enable local business owners to realize more business and prosperity. Perhaps this would enable them to update and expand their businesses. All of which means improving their situation and that of the city. A prosperous downtown, Lakeport and the Weirs creates the opportunity to become THE place to come, to invest, to live.

I have made those same promises mentioned in the first paragraph, yet have not pushed hard enough for a proposal I believe will benefit all of our city as well as the Lakes Region, by particularly giving that shot in the arm that downtown needs so badly. I have pitched this proposal over the past years but I haven’t been successful in selling the idea. Perhaps my presentation wasn’t clear or I didn’t press hard enough.

While a bit sketchy, for the sake of brevity, I want to put it out there for the council and the city to consider. It doesn’t need a lot of money to get it off the ground compared to some of our past endeavors. The minimum amount of money needed is $6,500 but ultimately $7,500 would complete the first step in the process unless someone donates that extra $1,000. If it takes hold, the city doesn’t necessarily need to expend more money, but things could be done in kind. It doesn’t need a study group and only needs minimum time to put it together. After the initial presentation a small committee would be formed to carry out the next step.

What it does need is the enthusiastic support of all those who wish to better their prospects and those who wish to see Laconia and the Lakes Region grow. Everyone of us has a stake in this.

Basically, it is very simple. Laconia needs a shot in the arm. First, we need to realize that our fortunes lie in our tourism business, YEAR ROUND, and with an increase in visitors will come new business opportunities downtown, and in Lakeport and the Weirs’ destinations, as well as other business opportunities and the Lakes Region in general. It won’t happen overnight and it will be up to the private sector to take the initiative.

The first step is the most important. I would like to bring Roger Brooks of Destination Development here to give his presentation on “Branding” and Creating Outstanding Destinations. Roger came to the area in 2007 when Franklin held its boot camp on branding. I, along with other city officials and business people from throughout the region were there. Everyone left that meeting vowing to follow through on what they had learned. They were full of enthusiasm and determination. That was five years ago.

Another point I would like to make is I have found that most committees and studies that we have established most always include the same people, and we get the same questions and the same answers. I believe we have left off the people who best know what is needed and also are the ones with investments in our area with the most to win or lose. I suggest, if we decide to hold this presentation, we invite developers, hotel people, restaurateurs, bankers, real estate people, downtown merchants and the Chamber of Commerce from here as well as the rest of the Lakes Region.

The presentation runs six hours and therefore a lunch is provided as well as the space to hold the event. This is where the extra $1,000 comes in unless we find a sponsor.

There is much more to this, and I have brochures I will distribute to the council. I will be presenting this at the next council meeting, and will ask them to make a motion to proceed with the first step and appoint the mayor, city manager, and myself to initiate this first step.

(Brenda Baer represents Ward 4 on the Laconia City Council.)