I moved into Nashua in 1982 the week after I was honorably discharged from the US Navy. It was still a relatively small “city” just north of the Massachusetts border. Main Street had a movie theater, there were practice soccer fields on Amherst Street, and the only mall was just off Exit 6.
It was a comfortable place to live.
In the intervening years, shopping centers have appeared and several housing developments have sprung up. Roads have been widened, schools have been built, the population has increased — and the “quality of life” has taken a turn for the worse. I wouldn’t call Nashua a “comfortable place to live” anymore.
New residents have moved into Southern New Hampshire – especially Nashua – to escape the laws and income taxes of the state directly south of us. Companies in Massachusetts provide employment for these new residents, who now populate much of the Nashua region (Nashua, Hudson, Hollis, Litchfield, Bedford, and the surrounding communities).
These new residents did not come to Nashua to assimilate into the New Hampshire lifestyle. They came to New Hampshire only for a reduction in their personal taxes. But they did bring their “big state politics” with them.
Over the years, those beliefs in programs “the state should pay for” have been made evident at the ballot box. They have elected progressives and liberals into office in a state where the tax base simply does not exist to support those progressive and liberal policies. And they have tried to pass a broad-based income tax several times in the past few years to pay for those programs.
Instead of trying to save Nashua’s “small town” look and live a “New Hampshire lifestyle,” they decided to expand – always expand – in the mistaken belief that “bigger is better.” Once elected into local political office, they decided to spend money on “look,” but not on “function.” They believed that they could create a larger business environment in a small “bedroom community” that barely has a local bus service.
Nashua lost its “small town” attractiveness through (in my opinion) misguided efforts to “make Nashua better.”
The latest of these efforts is the construction of a “performing arts center” (PAC) in the middle of downtown Nashua. “Build an arts center and they will come,” they said. “We need to attract people to Nashua,” they said. “We have sufficient parking space to support these performances,” they said. “We need it,” they said – without being able to point to specific reasons that it was needed or specific benefits the city would reap from it.
They promised that the (obviously misnamed) Performing Arts Center would be a “draw” to bring people to Nashua. They promised that the cost would be borne partly by the city and partly by private donations. They estimated the cost to be no more than $18 million dollars and promised that they would control any additional expenses required to build the PAC.
We’re now looking at $30-plus million dollars with no significant (multi-million dollar) private donations that were promised.
Moreover, the architectural plans for the inside of the PAC lead one to wonder exactly what kind of “performing arts” will be executed in a “center” with no obvious backstage area, wings (how do performers get on stage?), dressing rooms, and the other necessities for a “performing arts center.” I’m not an acoustical engineer, but – having grown up in the NYC area and gone to the Lincoln Center innumerable times to attend operas and ballets (which I still love) – I wonder whether anyone speaking on stage can be heard anywhere in the building without a microphone and amplifier. (BTW, opera singers can be heard in the Met without amplifiers – the acoustics were designed to properly reflect sound and muffle echoes).
A second question points directly to the kind of “performing arts” this center is meant to host. With a small stage, anything larger than a chamber orchestra would be too large. Without a proper area to drop “scenery flats” or wings to store props, it will be difficult to stage plays that may require “set changes” between acts. There isn’t even a proposed performance schedule for the opening night.
The only rumor we’ve heard about performances is a company that arranges for traveling troupes to bring their performances to town. One wonders if the Peacock Players, who have their own theater, will be contracted to perform at the Nashua PAC.
The last question has to do with the frequency of performances. $30-plus million dollars is a lot of money. How many performances per week will be hosted at the PAC? Will those performances generate sufficient revenue to the city – after the artists and staff have been paid, along with other pre-performance expenses – to make a dent in repaying the debt?
How much will the tickets cost? Who will pay for advertising, transportation, and the other requirements in operating a business (electricity, water, and sewage, taxes, etc)? The PAC is, aside from everything else, a business. Will the taxpayers also defray ordinary operating expenses as well as the cost of the building?
Will the residents of Nashua be required to absorb the costs of the PAC in the “out years,” when the PAC has lost its luster and even its original supporters have become bored and walked away?
As much as I love “high culture” performances, I’m almost 70. I remember going to the Met before the Internet, email, “social media,” and the isolation inspired by “new media.” Look around. Unaccompanied teens spend more time in front of their smartphones and TVs than at the mall or a local park, and few 20-somethings go anywhere in town except for bars and restaurants. Even before Covid, the movie theaters were rarely packed after the first-weekend showing of a new movie. That just won’t do for the PAC, which must be packed for every performance if it is to break even.
I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction. Within 10 years, the PAC will be sold at a loss to a chain that will mount a huge video screen on the stage and turn the building into a “games venue.” And even that will lose money.
Think wisely about your vote in the upcoming election. Look at those who are running, and see who has been spending money on useless white elephants such as the Performing Arts Center. Then ask yourself this: if they were “surprised” by the “unexpected increase” in the cost of the PAC, it means that they didn’t think about either near-term or long-term expenses. Many of those who supported the PAC also support other unnecessary spending. They also agreed with the Mayor when he decided against returning unspent revenues to the taxpayers. Are these the “leaders” you want here in Nashua?