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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Performing arts venue, movie theater eyed for Nashua parking garages

NASHUA – When Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy looks across the nearly empty rows of parking spaces on the tops of Nashua’s two downtown parking garages, McCarthy sees untapped potential.

For as long as he’s been in office, McCarthy said, residents have been longing to create a performing arts venue in Nashua that would serve as the city’s cultural hub. ...

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NASHUA – When Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy looks across the nearly empty rows of parking spaces on the tops of Nashua’s two downtown parking garages, McCarthy sees untapped potential.

For as long as he’s been in office, McCarthy said, residents have been longing to create a performing arts venue in Nashua that would serve as the city’s cultural hub.

At the same, city officials have been brainstorming ideas to help reinvigorate Nashua’s downtown and bring more foot traffic to Main Street.

McCarthy is proposing a new idea this week that could help the city make headway on both fronts. He is sponsoring legislation that would allow the city to solicit proposals from developers to build a new performing arts venue on top of the Elm Street garage. McCarthy also is asking the city to explore the feasibility of building a new movie theater or other attraction on top of the nearby High Street garage.

With a limited amount of real estate in the heart of Nashua, McCarthy said the garages present untapped potential for new growth.

“We’ve looked at performing arts venues for ages, and we always run into problems with locating them – finding real estate to be used for that within the city,” McCarthy said, “because things that are on the ground are valuable for other causes. … So it occurred to me that looking at the garage tops was a reasonable way to do this.”

The Nashua Arts Commission has identified the lack of a performing arts venue in the city as one its top priorities. Chairwoman Liz Racioppi said earlier this year that a forthcoming Arts and Cultural Plan for the city recommends an updated study of Nashua’s options.

Events in Nashua are often staged in school auditoriums and smaller venues, but members of the local arts community have long pined for an arts center to showcase artistic activity in the city.

One of the major concerns surrounding any potential location is whether it has sufficient parking.

McCarthy said the garages are under utilized at night, and could easily accommodate crowds attending a performance or a movie.

Bringing more activity to the garages also could help make them more appealing to visitors who are stopping downtown to visit other locations, McCarthy said.

He said the suggestion for a movie theater sprang to mind because it would address another cultural deficit downtown.

“It just seemed like that’s another thing that could be put up there that would just be another draw to the downtown and a way to get more use for the garages that we already have,” he said.

McCarthy is sponsoring legislation that would first instruct the city to determine whether the garages are capable of supporting new structures on the rooftops.

He proposes using up to $5,000 left over from the previous year’s budget to pay a consultant for the work if it’s deemed outside expertise is required.

The legislation also would allow the city to pay up to $5,000 to update an existing performing arts study as part of the project.

The new legislation would then call on the city to issue a request for proposals for the development of two new arts venues on the rooftops of the garages.

While developing a performing arts venue is a top priority, McCarthy said the garages present the potential for a range of uses, from permanent structures to temporary attractions in the summer.

“I think there’s a whole range of things that could come out of it,” he said.

The Board of Aldermen is expected to take up the legislation for a first reading at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the aldermanic chamber at City Hall.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).