Downtown, Hood Park still key council goals

RYAN HUTTON/ File photoVehicles travel up and down East Broadway in Derry in this file photo. Town councilors are keeping the downtown as a priority when talking about goals.

DERRY — The downtown and a nearby park are still key issues town councilors hope to keep on a priority list when discussing goals to consider.

The Town Council hosted a recent workshop to discuss goals and what priorities might be for handling certain projects and initiatives in town.

And two big items continue to be the downtown and Hood Park.

Downtown revitalization has been on the town's books for decades. New faces come and go on the Town Council, boards, and in business. Many ideas have been studied, planned and drawn in architect renderings.

With Exit 4A now officially on the state's transportation books, it may be time to narrow in on projects that could boost the downtown and community growth, officials say.

Once complete, Exit 4A could possibly divert thousands of vehicles away from the downtown, part of a goal to control and improve traffic flow coming off Interstate 93 through the town to promote economic vitality in the Derry/Londonderry area.

"We want building revitalization, market rate rents," Councilor Jim Morgan said. "We want vitality and passion about the downtown."

Morgan suggested the council and town itself take a more proactive approach when making downtown decisions about how Broadway should look.

"We need to get in the car and start driving," he said. "The town needs to lead the revitalization of the downtown."

The downtown has had major improvements in past years including a big project to improve sidewalks and lighting.

More efficient LED lighting was installed downtown to help save money on energy. New trees were planted. New solar-powered pedestrian beacon crosswalks are also in place and cyclists enjoying the local trail intersecting with Broadway can find new bike racks ready to use. The town also has a facade improvement program to support local businesses wanting to do improvements to their space. A weekly farmer's market also draws hundreds to Broadway.

A town-owned downtown parcel known as the Abbott Court property is also on the redevelopment list with proposed plans coming forward that could utilize that property as a key downtown space for business, educational opportunities or parking.

Councilor Brian Chirichiello said he lives near the downtown and significant steps have been made, citing new businesses coming in and popular events taking the spotlight every year including the Derry After Dark event in September.

"I'm hearing good things," Chirichiello said. "We've got the pieces in place."

Councilors will move ahead to hear more details from other communities on how they handled major downtown revitalization efforts, including Concord.

Hood Park was a popular summer swimming spot for many years, with youth swimming lessons taking place every summer. But due to the lack of lifeguard interest and often poor pond water quality, that program faded over the years.

The park still offers basketball, tennis, picnic tables, playground, fishing, biking and trails. But the park, named to honor the prominent Hood family of Derry, has fallen on quieter times.

"There have been big improvements, though, over the last two years," Chirichiello said, citing security cameras now in place that often thwart any youth that may want to gather at the park.

Chirichiello feels the park is not a priority.

"It almost feels to me like it's an afterthought," he said. "It's not a priority for the town, not a priority for recreation. Seeing it in its heyday, it was really nice. It was a jewel at one time. A lot of history there. It's a shame we let it go."

Council Chairman Neil Wetherbee said the park has a lot of potential.

"It's an incredible opportunity there," he said, "where the rail trail connects, it could be a central focus point."

The town's Don Ball Park on Humphrey Road is now the key location for most of recreational activities. The park has fields, concession stand, pavilion, playground, and the hugely well-visited Splashpad.

Wetherbee even suggested installing a smaller version of the popular watery structure at Hood.

Councilors also discussed some other goals they each felt were important including Abbott Court's future, the sign at the Derry Opera House and how often it's used, solar energy efforts with both town and school district, providing automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, at local parks, and a survey to ask residents their views on different subjects including the need for a teen center, senior center or other community center-styled location.

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