Downtown Manchester growth to benefit from resident feedback
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., May. 24, 2013
In a bygone era, downtown Manchester was the undisputed hub of town. But in the decades that followed, competing retail centers such as the Parkade and Buckland Hills Mall drained the area of its vibrancy. However, there are some who believe that the downtown has made a comeback, and are dedicated to building on that momentum.
Believers in the Main Street Renaissance point to the efforts of multiple community partners who have invested in the area. Manchester's art scene, already healthy due in no small part to the nearby Little Theatre of Manchester, received a boost when in the summer of 2012, Manchester Community College opened a satellite location, the art gallery MCC on Main, which has given a venue for art shows and live music to take place regularly. The organization Imagine Main Street, operating under the motto, “Art as a catalyst for change,” is dedicated to bringing fresh foot traffic to the Main Street stretch by encouraging art events and promoting already-established annual festivals. The area has seen interesting business developments following First Niagara's move to Main Street in 2011. The regional bank has collaborated to make MCC on Main possible, and has funded market research which it then made available for public use. Additionally, a new networking and support initiative for area entrepreneurs, Launch Manchester, has found a home in Axis901, a shared co-working space situated on Main Street.
Some of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the area are found in the town's Office of Planning and Economic Development and the Downtown Manchester Special Services District. Led by Mark Pellegrini and Tana Parseliti, respectively, the organizations invited town residents and Main Street “users” to attend an open call for ideas on Feb. 13. Participants were asked to answer the simple question, “How can we enhance the public spaces in our downtown?” Nearly 50 people provided feedback, a report of which the town and SSD recently released.
The first category of feedback dealt with placemaking and urban design. “Placemaking” is defined as capitalizing on a location's native assets and potential to create pleasing and interesting public spaces, and responses included beautified storefront windows, white lights on trees and flower planters. Other suggestions included adding public restrooms, pedestrian friendly zones, informational kiosks for historic buildings, amenities for dog walkers such as drinking fountains and waste bag dispensers, and bike paths and bike racks. Suggestions for enhancing the infrastructure's urban design included using bumpouts, or unused space next to on-street parking spots, as locations for “pop-up parks,” or temporary public spots that could include turf, shade trees and benches.
Responders emphasized a desire for more events and activities to take place, such as new annual festivals, wine-tastings, musical performances, flashshop downtown stores, sidewalk sales, holiday tours of historic homes, and street performers similar to those found in Quincy Market in Boston.
Enhancing existing venues was also a hot category. Suggestions included improving the Forest Street parking lot, and using the space as a venue for temporary activities such as Zumba or Tai Chi classes, street vendors, or child-friendly attractions, such as a merry-go-round. Responders also asked for more activities to be brought to Center Memorial Park, such as book fairs for Connecticut authors or outdoor fitness classes.
Participants also called for better publicizing of events and opportunities in the area. Cross-promoting restaurants using LiveSocial or Groupon was one suggestion, another was to have event tie-ins with MCC on Main.
A surge of feedback was collected from the question posed to attendees: “I wish there was a...” Coffee shops with wi-fi, cafes open late, frozen yogurt stores, high-end retail, a dance hall, DVD/music stores, Italian bakeries, Jamaican bakeries, microbreweries/pubs, a food truck, a youth center and more nightlife are just a fraction of the wish list.
“Many of the ideas discussed during the open call for ideas are achievable initiatives,” concluded the report. “If you or your organization has a passion for one of the ideas discussed, we look forward to working with you further as we continue the process towards making downtown Manchester a more interesting, fun and inviting public attraction.” To contact the Office of Planning and Economic Development, call 860-647-3044 or visit www.townofmanchester.org/planning. To contact the Downtown Manchester Special Services District, call 860-645-2101 or visit www.downtownmanchester.org.