There are many reasons why Derry’s proposed purchase of 1 Sawyer Court was a bad idea, not the least of which are the 421 municipal parking spaces already available downtown.
The majority of the Town Council wisely voted, 4-3, last week not to spend $375,000 for the eight-unit apartment building, a property appraised at just $264,100, according to town records.
Downtown Derry does need a shot in the arm, a few of them, in fact. But the town spending half a million dollars to buy yet another building and then razing it and a nearby property purchased earlier this year wouldn’t provide that.
It’s not entirely clear what some officials thought the town would get for all that money it can’t afford to spend. Enhanced access, a more attractive downtown and other vague terms aren’t reason enough to fork over that kind of cash.
Additionally, the tenants moved out in advance of the promised sale, so as many as eight families were displaced as the result of a misguided plan.
So many discussions about what downtown Derry needs revolve around parking. But it’s unclear where and when officials see a parking shortage. It’s tough to rally the troops around a more-parking cry when Broadway itself often offers empty spaces. There are six municipal parking lots and 72 on-street spaces.
If only Derry did have the problem of people clamoring for a parking space. Instead, there’s simply not enough happening downtown to inspire many to want to park there.
There are, of course, success stories. The Cask and Vine, Sabatino’s, Daren’s Music Center, three florists, MaryAnn’s, salons, Gem Jewelers and more all appear to have a steady clientele.
But those successes are overshadowed by the empty storefronts and the lack of street traffic. While development booms along Crystal Avenue, Broadway slips farther into the shadow of retail development happening elsewhere.
Parking isn’t the problem. Most people are willing to walk any number of blocks from a parking lot to their destination — restaurant, theater, stores. Derry appears to have adequate parking for the traffic it sees.
Downtown Derry has a lot going for it — a wide street, well maintained sidewalks, adequate lighting, well-marked crosswalks and much more.
If town officials want more businesses to move in, they ought to focus on emphasizing what’s right about the downtown and the opportunities for growth it offers. There are plenty.
It was a mistake for the town to spend some $173,000 for 8 Central St. To spend another $500,000 for another property and the razing of both would, indeed, be throwing good money after bad.
The town doesn’t need any more endless brainstorming sessions filled with pie-in-the-sky proposals and flip charts filled with utopian ideas. Maybe what the town really needs is a marketing firm that recognizes what downtown Derry has to offer and can sell that to new businesses.