To The Daily Sun,
As we ReImagine Laconia, updating the Master Plan; as the Colonial Theatwe is developed into a regional entertainment facility; and as we think about whether to fix the existing, decrepit parking garage facility, let's step back and refocus on the entire downtown area and how it could be made more accessible and inviting to people to stay rather than rushing through it.
Right now, in the evening, downtown is a ghost town. What can be done to reverse that? It will take a lot more than just a few cosmetic things to change course. There are serious flaws that must be corrected and we, right now, have the perfect, and perhaps the last, opportunity to correct them. We have an opportunity that comes but once in a generation.
When many people talk about how Urban Renewal destroyed the character of Laconia's original downtown, one of the most egregious errors that was made was the current parking facility and closing Main Street to two way traffic. The building was put up as cheaply as possible without any thought to the long-term consequences. Let's fix it while we have this current opportunity.
Rather than spend $1.5 million on fixing a non-functional eyesore, let's invest that money in studying and redesigning how downtown flows. We can never bring back the grand old buildings that should have been saved, but we should attempt to fix the things that we can.
Let's expand on the prior traffic study to incorporate a widening of Main Street at the current parking garage. Can all three streets, Main Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West become two way with a roundabout metering traffic at the southerly end of Main Street?
At the location of the current garage facility we will widen the right-of-way and build an architecturally appropriate structure that incorporates the desired design elements of retail on the first floor, offices on the second and apartments on the third. This will mimic most of the building stock in the downtown area and provide more life to an area that rolls up the sidewalks when the streetlights come on.
As examples, look at Concord and Littleton where even in the evenings there are people strolling about enjoying a welcoming environment because there are things that bring them there. They are not just commuter destinations, there are people living there as well.
In order to provide parking for the Colonial Theater, we will build a new, dedicated parking garage within the municipal parking lot northerly of City Hall. Similar to Portsmouth, we could charge a fee for parking to pay for full-time security presence to ensure that people feel that their cars are safe when parked there. A great deal of parking will be needed in a revitalized, vibrant downtown, especially during events at the Colonial Theater, during Pumpkin Fest and other events that will be sure to happen as downtown, once again and at long last, becomes a destination again.
As the WOW Trail is completed and becomes part of a regional trail system, Laconia will be a trail destination — a Trailtown, with the economic benefits that come with it. The statewide trail system that is envisioned should be funded and built, as it will provide a significant economic benefit for the city, region and state.
Let's study reconfiguring the Pleasant Street-Veterans Square-Beacon Street-New Salem Street debacle that is a crap shoot to drive through. Another roundabout? Maybe, though it certainly wouldn't be a standard design.
These are just some ideas that I've been kicking around. I'm sure that there must be better ones out there that could be incorporated. Perhaps the City Council and/or Planning Board can host an event to start the ball rolling.