To The Daily Sun,
I write in response to Councilor Baer’s letter published July 11.
As a business owner downtown and resident in your ward, I find it convenient that you suddenly think downtown is worth investing in, since for the past two and a half years City Council has known about the structural issues of the parking garage and have managed to table the subject until who knows when, while parking is of paramount concern right now, and has been for some time. As I have seen it, the city has continually viewed parking downtown on a spot by spot basis, refusing to look at the big picture. There are currently difficulties finding parking on days downtown because of the successful businesses that already exist. Please, tell me what the city is going to do when Fit Focus opens; that has something to the effect of 30,000-sq-ft. for gym goers to fill, or when Genesis Behavior Health finishes their project beside Citizen’s Bank and has a staffing much greater than what their half of that parking lot can accommodate? Then, we could bring up the elephant in the room, which is parking once the Colonial Theater opens.
If I recall correctly, in past budget years the Planning Department had repeatedly submitted for an economic development director to be added, and that topic had always been very promptly shut down. The question that pops into my head is, “how serious are you about improving our economy, presentation serious or priority serious?”
Throughout the time I have spent here in Laconia as a resident, and before when I only owned a business in downtown, I have seen how terribly reactionary our council has been to issues. I would have loved to have had a proactive conversation on the topic of business downtown two years ago, when something could have been done that would save the city a lot of money and frustration. Unfortunately, that opportunity has passed. Now the conversation to have with the city will be a hard one. There will be no easy solution to improve downtown, but I wholeheartedly agree the conversation needs to be had, and as soon as possible.
I agree with your statement that we need to look to the future and plan and invest in the city for the long term. Our city is worth investing in, and support locally focused efforts every chance I get. However, there is something that should be taken into consideration. This is not an economy like anything we have had before. We cannot treat our city as though we’ve had these same struggles or opportunities in the past. Our time is unique. Growing the future of the tax base is extremely important for the future of our community, so we need to attract more than tourists. Tourists don't get my business through the off season, our locals do. Our residents are our foundation for every successful business downtown. If you don’t have the locals, you do not succeed. We must attract younger families and business people. The reality of my generation is, we do our research online. If the perception of our community is less than desirable, people will find somewhere else to live. Our city needs to take control of marketing itself. We must make ourselves attractive to outsiders by implementing a plan. Dare I say, a Master Plan ... I haven’t heard those words in a while. I wonder how that’s going? I feel like that was kind of the point of the state requirement to establish a Master Plan every 7-10 years, was so each community could refocus on the ever-changing issues and priorities of a community, and not just sit on a shelf, not being worth the money it took to write it.
I will not deny that in your 12-year tenure on council, you have supported and made many decisions to the benefit of our community. With that said, I believe our community would be better served in the future by an individual who has a better understanding of the difficulties that face businesses in our economy, as well as a person who has an open mind about creative solutions that face our city. Change is upon us, the city can feel it. We need a leadership that has the mindset of innovation and creativity combined with good economic and business sense. This is why I will be running for the Ward 4 seat on City Council in this upcoming election.