Sunday, September 16, 2007

GraniteRoots for John Edwards

This afternoon, two young women [probably in college] canvassed my neighborhood handing out "GraniteRoots for John Edwards" packets, complete with a white spruce sapling, instructions on how to plant the baby tree, and a note from the state campaign director, Beth Leonard.
In the note, she requests assistance for the campaign:
Change often starts with just one person. Growing a forest can start in a very similar way - with a single tree. With this gift of a seedling, I want to ask for your help in bringing about the change our country needs. Our campaign is planting the seeds of change in New Hampshire one neighborhood at a time.
Leonard calls on voters to plant the tree and "watch it grow strong and tall" and help the campaign create the change needed to build One America.
This is a very clever campaign promotion, especially in my relatively politically liberal city neighborhood. I've lost the exact count, but I think this is the fourth time the Edwards campaign has been by the house doorknocking or leafleting. Obama has been by twice and Clinton has been by once. None of the other candidates have been by ... and there are Republicans in my neighborhood, too!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The view from Capital Commons

A.G. Edwards & Sons, the financial firm with a slew of local offices worldwide, held an open house at their new Concord office on the top floor of the new multi-million dollar Capital Commons office complex. It was an all day affair, complete with munchies, soda and friendly conversation from those who bothered to stop by and check the place out. I took the opportunity to drop in and see my tax dollars at work, since tax increment financing, or TIF, helped fund the $14 million parking garage as well as the property tax waivers, set asides, and bargain basement price for the lot, which were given to the developer to construct the project.
Three quick things on the positive side: The building is beautiful, the views are spectacular [see more pictures and video online at], and it is great to see the old hole that was there for years finally filled. It is also great to see the new movie theatre coming along.
The bad news? Well, according to the entrance ledger, at least two floors are empty. The restaurant space, a major component of the project, is also empty. The Concord Monitor has a story about the restaurant space here: ["At Commons, eatery still vacant"].

There were rumors that Tio Juan's Margarita's, currently housed on Warren Street in the old city jail, was going to move into the space. This reportedly irked the owners of Hermano's, another Mexican restaurant. The restaurant has had to bear the brunt of the construction project – dealing with the constant noise, having most of its parking lot consumed by construction equipment, etc. Hermano's has reportedly been barely hanging on, thanks mostly to the loyal clientele who have supported it through the inconvenience. A new Mexican restaurant just a block away would surely be the end of the long-time, local-owned and operated establishment. When the rumors began flying about Margarita's, it also ticked off taxpayers who were told that they would be getting a new food choice at the location - not an old one that would abandon an already shaky Bicentennial Square. Now they're talking about a food court? We're losing millions in set aside tax revenue for this? Hello, Eagle Square anyone? There used to be this fancy food court with small shops down at the Eagle Square plaza. During the recession of the late 1970s, early 1980s, the federal government pumped millions and millions into reconstructing old buildings like the Eagle Square plaza, in an effort to preserve all the old buildings. Everyone raved about how the project was going to be the salvation of downtown. Well, it wasn't. They did a great job on the construction and it was well-worth the money to preserve the buildings. But in typical Concord fashion, its eyes were bigger than its stomach. The downtown food court/mall concept was a complete disaster. The businesses quickly went under after the Legislative session ended in 1984. The spaces were quickly converted into a historical museum, a law firm, and a cluster of small offices and non-profits. So much for saving the downtown.

Speaking of TIFs for a moment, it is interesting to note that if one were to add up all the lost property tax revenue due to the current TIF bonds which are outstanding, they would find that it comes pretty close to the amount of a budget deficit the city had last year. Gee, I wonder why? Now, we have the Capital Commons project. Is this all going to turn out like one of those other failed promises of the past? As developer Michael Simchik said in the Concord Monitor article, it took him 16 months to fill up his last project. With a plummeting real estate and construction market, who knows what will happen now. We should probably all be patient and hope for the best. But, at the same time, the building might actually have been built too large for its size. It is a disappointment, for example, that the building blocks the gorgeous state Capital building, gateway to the city, while approaching the city from I-93 north. At night, it is unnerving. This is also, as Alan Hershlag noted before the building was constructed, a zoning violation. Scoff, who cares about the zoning laws. Whatever happens, our community really needs to learn to take those small steps first, instead of always taking the big grand ones. We might find that we will be more financially secure and just as happy. Here are the video and pictures:

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post has been corrected.