More than 130 people packed the cafeteria at Burr and Burton Academy to both brainstorm and share their thoughts on what Manchester should be in the future. In the end, the crowd chose attracting higher education, becoming a biking destination, redeveloping the Riverside and opening a Riverwalk and creating a small business incubator as the top priorities to focus on moving forward.
The four priorities were chosen on the second round of voting, eliminating the concepts of developing a food coop and year round farmers' market, focusing on sustainability and carbon neutrality, advancing friendly regulations and improving community transportation, which the crowd had voted among the top eight priorities earlier in the evening.
Heather Thomas, a resident of Wells, was one of the people in favor of Manchester focusing on creating a small business incubator. "It will be a way to show young people how to live in Manchester instead of just moving to cities like Boston or New York like I did," Thomas said. "So, that's what I would be in support of.
Manchester resident Derek Boothby was one of the people who championed the idea of bringing higher education to the area at last Thursday's meeting.
"I look up the road and I see Bromley (Brook) School sitting absolutely empty and its been empty for a long, long time and it has teaching accomodation(s), [a] cafeteria all those kinds of things," said Boothby. "The nearest community college for people who want to take those kind of post high school vocational courses is 25 miles away."
Boothby continued to say that if they could draw people to town for three or four day conferences then there were several other businesses throughout town - such as restaurants and the hospitality and resort industry - that would benefit as a result.
Among the other ideas presented by the public were making Manchester a center for music and entertainment, creating more affordable housing, and creating a more vibrant nightlife in town.
Following in line with a more vibrant nightlife, some people suggested closing off some of the streets on a more regular basis for things such as street festivals or gallery walks. Leslie Keefe also suggested that the town remove some of the regulations pertaining to the town green so that both it and the gazebo could be used more frequently.
People also suggested trying to create a more attractive town that would prevent younger people from leaving the area.
"If my students were here they would say they would like to see Manchester with more things for young people to do," said Burr and Burton Headmaster Mark Tashjian. "And for those of us who are adults I think we would like to see Manchester with more things that young people could do that do not involve alcohol or drugs."
While keeping young people in town was not an item that made the top eight priorities list it was something that was raised several times leading up to the first vote to narrow the field of priorities to eight.
During the conversation centering around keeping young people in town, one woman said that everyone should be "realistic" and that the younger people would stay in town if they were able to get jobs. Another person in attendance said she wanted to see a Manchester that appealed to all ages.
She continued to say that children make up their mind about the area at a young age and if they feel that there isn't much to do when they are very young it would be harder to change that opinion when they reached their teens.
The next Community Visit meeting is scheduled for May 21.
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