Coffee with Clemons

The BOA candidate focused on rails

Telegraph photo by ADAM URQUHART Nashua voters enter jajaBelle’s Pastry & Coffee Shop Friday morning to ask Board of Aldermen candidate Ben Clemons questions in advance of the Tuesday election.

NASHUA – Board of Aldermen candidate Ben Clemons drew a large crown to jajaBelle’s Pastry & Coffee Shop Friday morning, as he spent about an hour discussing his top three priorities: commuter rail, the Elm Street Middle School and the downtown Performing Arts Center.

Patrons began arriving at 9 a.m. Friday. After 10 or so minutes, the majority of the shop’s seats were filled with area voters, eager to direct their questions and concerns to Clemons. He said this Special Municipal Election on Tuesday is going to cost approximately $30,000 in expenses, for what really is to fill a vacancy until the end of the year. He said that is a lot of money, so he urges residents to not just go out and vote, but to bring along others with them to cast their ballots.

“Rail is definitely something that is an economic development engine, no pun intended, and we need to get it here,” Clemons said.

He said many Nashuans commute down to Boston for work. He said many people in the community do this for a number of reasons, including higher salaries south of the stateline with a lower cost of living in New Hampshire.

“I think if we get rail to Nashua, you’re giving those folks an opportunity of another way to get to work,” Clemons said.

However, on the flip side, he said having commuter rail in place will be attractive to people on both sides of the border, especially if rail runs north up to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

“The other thing is that businesses, when they are looking for a city to locate to, they want the city to be connected on multiple levels, particularly to the biggest hub around, and that here is Boston,” Clemons said. “So, Nashua lacks that right now. But if you look at where the development of most new corporations are, they’re anywhere where there is commuter rail.”

He even cited two prime examples in the state, Dover and Exeter, and calls them “perfect examples of how rail can boost your local economy.” He said those two towns to the east of Nashua are benefiting from having commuter rail in place that runs right through them.

He said a lot of people talk about bringing new businesses to the city, but one of the things he said people need to be mindful of is keeping the businesses that are already operating in Nashua here.

“BAE (Systems) is a huge employer – they employ over 5,000 people,” Clemons said. “Fidelity (Fidelity Investments) up in Merrimack, they employ over 3,500 people.”

Clemons had people imagine if one day they both decided to no longer stay in the area because the city is not progressive enough, or not doing the things needed to get employees up here or to retain young people.

“We run the risk of that, and so we have to engage these businesses and ask them what is it that when you’re recruiting, what are the things that you’re getting resistance on why people aren’t coming to stay in Nashua, or take a job at BAE or take a job at Fidelity,” Clemons said.

For Clemons, listening to those area businesses and hearing what they want is important.

“We don’t want to wake up one morning to a headline that says BAE is moving out of town,” Clemons said.

However, another issue discussed Friday morning was what to do with the Elm Street Middle School, and Clemons said it is important to look at the whole picture before deciding to renovate or build an entirely new school. This would then include taking a look at what transportation costs are if it requires having to relocate some students to a new school.

“To me, it’s going to come down to cost,” Clemons said.

He said the building has stood in the center of town for quite some time now, and that it is a sentimental and beautiful building. Additionally, he sees multiple opportunities with the building. He thinks there is value there, including the Keefe Center for the Arts, the gymnasium and maybe even the cafeteria and those types of spaces in the school.

“I would not be for going in and taking a wrecking ball to the entire building,” Clemons said.

So, Clemons believes it is best to learn the best options for that middle school project.

He also wants to make sure the downtown Performing Arts Center not only gets done, but is successful in a way that Nashua could be marketed as a place for artists to come and perform, even attracting major acts to the city.

“We can make Nashua the venue,” Clemons said.