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Paul Feely's City Hall: Mayor happy with candidate pool to run Manchester airport

July 07. 2018 10:22PM

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Mayor Joyce Craig said she hopes to have a nominee for director of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport by mid-August.

Tom Malafronte has been serving as acting airport director since March 1 when former director Mark Brewer retired after a decade on the job.

City officials issued a request for proposals for firms to conduct a national search for a new director, with ADK - a firm that specializes exclusively in searches for the aviation and aerospace management community - chosen in March.

The firm's fee for the search was $36,900, with Manchester-Boston Regional Airport picking up the tab.

The job was advertised nationally, with a salary range between $156,000 to $220,000 annually, "with an excellent benefit package," according to the advertisement.

Last week, Craig's office said the job posting generated 29 applications.

"We're very happy with the results of the search so far," Craig said. "We have several internal applicants, and received several external applicants from across the country."

Craig said ADK is currently going through those applications, and will narrow the pool down before sending them along to city staff for review, with the hope of sending a nominee to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in time for its mid-August meeting.

Craig said someone who would work toward "increasing the number of flights to meet the needs of the community" is one of the qualities she will look for in a nominee.

The proposal to launch a new Wayfinding Signage Initiative in the Queen City has the backing of the aldermanic Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic - as well as a few words of caution.

Key goals of the proposal include projecting a modern and positive image of the city; increasing awareness of the city's major assets; providing effective direction to these locations; fostering a sense of community pride and supporting the city's economic development.

In 2002 and again in 2007, city officials discussed possible signage initiatives, and while the initiatives received support from city aldermen, they were never implemented due to lack of funding.

According to a presentation to aldermen by Jeff Eisenberg, president of EVR advertising and a member of the Chamber's Downtown Committee Wayfinding Task Force, the Manchester Wayfinding Signage Initiative is viewed as a citywide project that would be implemented in phases.

Phase I involves downtown and Millyard areas, including key entry points into the city. Future phases to be considered would be the areas of South Elm Street, South Willow Street, the West Side, East Side, North End and Hooksett Road.

To be eligible for display on signage, destinations would qualify under criteria and eligibility categories to be determined at a later date. Current signs that don't meet the new criteria would be removed.

That aspect of the initiative caught the attention of some committee members.

"I want to tell you that I like the idea of the signs but I find it disturbing to take the other ones down," Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw said. "That bothers me because there are some like Rotary (Club) signs. No matter where you go in this state, you are going to find Rotary signs and markers that designate where a certain church is. It is not historical but it is a church. I think you are setting yourselves up for some serious opposition if you take down too many of these signs, like 'H' for hospital. Those signs are in every town in this state. There are certain things that I find disturbing that you would ask to be taken down."

"We can debate the criteria but the fundamental idea is that this is wayfinding for visitors," said Eisenberg. "The Rotary signs are essentially a representation of the pride of an organization. It really doesn't fit a wayfinding definition. Hospital signs would stay. Parking signs would stay. Churches, one could argue that there isn't really a particular reason why church signs would be up. They aren't a destination. People who are going to churches basically know where they are going. The whole idea is to clean this up and kind of get with the times."

"I strongly disagree only because I think that diversity and uniqueness is part of our city culture," Shaw said. "I certainly think that some things, which may not seem important to the overall design of this, are very important to people who live here. I think the people who live here and pay taxes are more important than the ones that are coming to visit."

"Signage is not for people who live here," Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart said. "People who live here know where the Christian Science Church is and they know where the Episcopal Church is. Signage is for visitors and I think we need to keep that in mind and the aesthetics of the community is not to be understated either. These signs are ugly and when people see this visual clutter it doesn't look good for the city."

In April, Nashua officials approved $209,000 in funding for the first phase of a sign package designed to direct drivers, visitors and pedestrians to Gate City landmarks, downtown hot spots and public parking. The money will be used to place 78 signs along Main Street and surrounding roadways.

Eisenberg said the Wayfinding Initiative was conceived as a collaborative effort between the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, city officials and private businesses.

"We would propose it to be public-private," Eisenberg said. "We fully understand that it is an obligation and responsibility of ours to have the private sector step up and support this through sponsorships. We would hope, and we think it is frankly important, that the city have some 'skin in the game.' That could just be the maintenance and installation - some of it could be defraying costs in that area but those are discussions we need to have."

"I think it is important for us to use caution as far as who we include and who we don't include because there will be a lot of people that may be upset if their businesses aren't designated for signage," Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry said. "There are a lot of questions that need to be answered."

"The ultimate power to approve and designate where signs go still remains with this board," said Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. "Ultimately, that is a policy decision."

Committee members tabled the Wayfinding Initiative for further discussion over the summer.

"We didn't get a red light but we got maybe a flashing yellow light," Skelton said. "We are proceeding and answering some additional questions and we are on our way to getting a green light."

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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