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Nashua aldermen give thumbs-up to $15.5m arts center

Union Leader Correspondent

February 13. 2018 10:39PM
The Nashua Board of Aldermen voted 14-1 on Tuesday to acquire the former Alec's shoe store and convert it into a downtown performing arts center. (Kimberly Houghton)

NASHUA — The lengthy effort to bring a new performing arts center into downtown came to a victorious conclusion on Tuesday night when aldermen approved a $15.5 million bond to convert an old shoe store into a theater.

“I think the underlying purpose here is to improve Nashua’s economy, strengthen the downtown and improve the quality of life in Nashua,” Mayor Jim Donchess said.

This is not a win-or-lose situation, Donchess said, noting the project will help expand the tax base and pay for other needed infrastructure projects and city services.

The Board of Aldermen voted 14-1 to acquire 201 Main St. — the former Alec’s shoe store — for $2 million, and voted 14-1 to issue a $15.5 million bond to pay for the acquisition, construction and equipment costs of the 500- to 700-seat theater.

Before the bond is issued, a $4 million private endowment fund must be secured.

Several residents spoke in favor of the arts center, a project rejected by aldermen last September. The board now includes eight newly elected aldermen that did not vote on the proposal last fall.

Donchess resubmitted the proposal to aldermen last month.

Two citizens spoke in opposition to the bond, including 19-year-old Tyler Gouveia, who said the price is too expensive at $31,000 per seat.

“We have to have spending priorities in Nashua,” Gouveia told the board, questioning whether the arts center will remain thriving after it has been in operation for several years.

Although the majority of voters (5,163 to 5,016) supported a non-binding referendum on the arts center in November, Gouveia said that five wards voted it down.

He called on those five ward aldermen to vote against the project.

Alderman Ernest Jette of Ward 5 was the only city official to vote in opposition to the bond, although he said he does support the initiative. However, since his ward voted against the project, he felt obligated to vote against it as well.

The bond is a large amount of money, but a performing arts center can be successful if done correctly, said Alderman Ken Gidge.

“We need to do what is right for the city,” said Alderman Tom Lopez, acknowledging that the board’s decision will not be popular with everyone. He said the downtown needs some investment.

Alderman Patricia Klee said she hopes now that the arts center has received approval that the community — especially those who have been advocating for the theater — dig deep to help raise money for the endowment fund needed to make it a reality.

“I hope that once it passes, it is a full community project and everyone gets on board to make the city proud,” Alderman David Tencza said.

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