Recently I had the opportunity to attend the final presentation of the “Manchester Connects” community working group. The group consists of committed community members and key organizations who all share a desire to see better connectivity between the Millyard and downtown Manchester and development of the riverfront area.
The final presentation, like past public meetings, attracted an excited and eclectic mix of young professionals, students, Millyard employees, business leaders, and elected officials. This meeting was the culmination of more than a years’ worth of work by volunteers to engage stakeholders and develop new, innovative ideas that will enhance the vibrancy, walkability, and economic activity throughout the Millyard and downtown area.
Before sharing some of the findings and recommendations from the final presentation, I want to take a moment to recognize the fantastic work of the community volunteers who made this project possible. There are far too many to list here, but it was truly an inspiring experience to see such a large group of volunteers drive such an important project. Special kudos goes to David Preece and the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission for stepping up early in the process and serving as the fiscal agent for the planning grant that made the project possible. The project was expertly guided by Civic Moxie, a Cambridge based firm with national expertise on placemaking and community planning.
The Final Presentation
The final presentation contained not only thoughtful and exciting recommendations, but also some compelling statistics and data that highlight how importantthe economic vibrancy of the Millyard and downtown is to Manchester and the region. The Millyard and downtown area are home to just over 800 businesses with a combined payroll of $881 million and more than 14,000 employees. This area of the city represents 25% of the total employment but 31% of the total payroll, underscoring that the Millyard and downtown are home to the greatest concentration of higher paying, knowledge-based jobs in the area. Studies continue to show that the millennials and young professionals needed to fill these jobs are attracted to the community first, the job second. Meaning, young workers choose where they want to live based on amenities and quality of life, and then find a job in that area.
The good news is that Manchester, the surrounding region, and the state as a whole already have many great amenities and qualities that contribute to a high quality of life. What the Manchester Connects initiative helped better illustrate, however, is there is significant untapped potential to further enhance our ability to attract and retain young workers that can power the Millyard’s continued growth as an economic engine.
Some ideas on how to do this put forth by Civic Moxie included placemaking near the riverfront, taking a unified approach to parking, enhancing walkability and mobility. Specifically, these concepts could take shape as:
- A new pedestrian bridge connecting the east and west near Arms Park
- Pop-up art, food trucks, music shows located near the water to attract Millyard employees
- A new Millyard “walking loop” emblazoned by signage and markings that encourages one to easily walk from Elm St. to the Millyard
- Streamlining the more than a dozen parking rates and districts in the Millyard into one unified plan that makes better use of the more than 11 million square feet of asphalt in the Millyard
- Implementing remote parking options where employees park offsite and are shuttled to different Millyard locations