Derry Downtown Committee at Work on Revitalization of Area

A new barbershop. Two new bars. A funky coffee shop. And a renewed sense of hope.

A revitalized Derry Downtown Committee has seen several small victories in recent months. With the cooperation of the Town Council and downtown merchants, members hope to make Downtown Derry a destination for shopping, personal care and entertainment. Several members gathered Wednesday, Sept. 24, to discuss goals and achievements.

Town Planner George Sioras gave an update on recent successes from the town staff point of view. He said Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey sent a letter of concern to the owner of the building formerly housing JJ’s Pizza, and a broken window had been replaced. “We were pleasantly surprised,” Sioras said. A barber shop, complete with striped pole, opened next to the former JJ’s.

Sioras said the Property Maintenance Committee, chaired by Town Councilor Tom Cardon, has been meeting regularly and has almost finalized a property maintenance ordinance, which it will run by the Council some time this fall. “It gives the Code Enforcement Officer and Fire Department the ‘teeth’ to enforce the rules,” Sioras said, adding that the ordinance will not just apply to downtown, but to the whole town.

“Does it have fines if they don’t comply?” Committee member Gordon Graham asked.

Sioras said the ordinance will be in line with state statutes and fines. “But we will use it as a last resort,” he said.

“We will start gently,” Sioras said. The process includes initial notification, with a 30-day window to comply; second notification; and legal action. “The Council will support full legal action,” he said.

Sioras said Mackey and Alan Cote, Superintendent of Operations for the Department of Public Works, looked at the needs of the “Broadway Pets” building, which has stood empty for years. They contacted the owners, who live in Maryland, and the owners are going to undertake structural repairs, Sioras said.

The Planning Board is also looking at the height requirements for downtown buildings, he said, and at the permitted uses in downtown.

“They recognize the needs of the buildings and they will be working with Code Enforcement to move forward,” he said.

Graham alerted the group to the Philadelphia ordinance, which uses fines to get owners to comply. “They have a standard rule that all doors need to be operable,” he said. “So if you have a boarded-up doorway, that’s $50 a day.” The rule goes for windows and other parts of a building, Graham said, and takes away the accusation of being targeted because the standard is the same across the city.

Will Stewart, new director of the Greater Derry/ Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, came to Derry from the Manchester Chamber. What worked in Manchester? “It depended on what people want,” Stewart said. “You go where the people want.”

There are a number of “best practices” available for any issue, Stewart said.

Debra Paul, owner of Nutfield News, called for a unified approach. “You need a clear vision, a clear definition,” she said. “You need to be on the same page.” Otherwise, she said, “I could be visioning Norman Rockwell and you’re visioning skyscrapers.”

The unified vision should include promoting all the town’s assets, Paul added. “For example, a man could say, ‘Honey, you leave me at the golf course. You go shop. Then we’ll have dinner and take in a show at the Stockbridge,’” she said.

The Chamber is planning a Visitors and Relocation Guide that will shine a spotlight on member towns’ assets, Stewart said.

Why do they think the group will succeed? “This room is filled with people who have a passion for downtown,” Michael Gendron, director of Derryfest, said. “We want to see it successful.”

“There’s been interest in the past, but now we have the support of the Council,” Graham said. “They want to see this group succeed. They believe in the need. We’re willing to try.”

The group ticked off the projects it has accomplished or almost accomplished, including the property maintenance ordinance, new parking signs and letters to absentee property owners. “We are taking some off, we should add more,” Paul said.

The group meets the last Wednesday of every other month at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Center.