Hanover initiatives aim to enliven atmosphere downtown

Deb Shinnlinger and her daughter Opal Shinnlinger of Canaan, N.H., sketch in front of the Hanover Town Hall on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. The town is seeking public feedback about new outdoor seating downtown to inform ongoing efforts to encourage opportunities for socializing, recreation and community gatherings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Deb Shinnlinger and her daughter Opal Shinnlinger of Canaan, N.H., sketch in front of the Hanover Town Hall on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Hanover, N.H. The town is seeking public feedback about new outdoor seating downtown to inform ongoing efforts to encourage opportunities for socializing, recreation and community gatherings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Robin Burdette, of Quechee, Vt., with her dog Lulu say hello to Loki in Hanover, N.H. on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Loki's owners Diane and Peter Carson, of Groton, Mass., were in town visiting family. Hanover is seeking public feedback for new outdoor downtown seating. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Robin Burdette, of Quechee, Vt., with her dog Lulu say hello to Loki in Hanover, N.H. on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Loki's owners Diane and Peter Carson, of Groton, Mass., were in town visiting family. Hanover is seeking public feedback for new outdoor downtown seating. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-07-2023 12:25 PM

HANOVER — The entrance to Town Hall will look markedly different in the coming weeks as a new initiative aimed at making the downtown business district more conducive to socializing and impromptu gatherings gets underway.

Following the recent removal of large hedges outside the municipal headquarters, the town plans to install tables and chairs as early as this week for al fresco dining or simply relaxing, Town Manager Alex Torpey said. Grass and flower plantings will follow.

Torpey called this new seating arrangement “a trial phase.”

Over the next few weeks the town plans to experiment with different table styles and configurations while seeking public feedback about their preferences.

The town will post a community survey on the town website to gather input, though the date of its launch has not been set.

“Our goal is to try this as a first phase to see what people think and to use this feedback to figure out what we want to do for something more permanent,” Torpey said.

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While the Dartmouth College green is nearby, the town lacks a public common or plaza.

“The Green is a great resource, but it’s not the same as a public space,” Torpey noted.

Tables for the trial phase are being donated by Allie Levy, owner of Still North Books & Bar on Allen Street. Kieran Campion, owner of Sawtooth Kitchen, Bar and Stage on Allen Street, said his family has also pledged to donate tables in the future.

“I think anything we can do encourage people to spend time downtown, rather than just go to a store and then return to their homes, is a good thing,” Campion said.

Next summer, the town plans to make permanent pedestrian spaces, which will include seating areas and lighting and pavement upgrades based on this summer’s community input.

This project is among several ideas being explored by a collaborative of town officials, business owners and other community stakeholders that formed last summer to explore ways to spur social and economic activity.

Torpey, who was hired last year as town manager, began organizing the meetings early in his tenure and they have averaged between 20 to 25 participants.

Many participants commented that the downtown used to have an atmosphere more conducive to socializing, according to Torpey.

The town is exploring other sections of downtown, such as Allen Street, to create public gathering spots.

“This process is all about looking at spaces one by one to try to figure out if we can create more gathering spaces,” Torpey said. “We have a lot of places to sit with the benches but we don’t have a lot of places for gathering. And if people have ideas, such as locations, they can suggest them to us.”

Business owners have expressed interest in having more pedestrian spaces, Torpey said.

While it could require sacrificing a few downtown parking spaces, proponents believe more economic activity will be gained by making the downtown more vibrant for pedestrians.

The town is also considering organizing an event similar to White River Junction’s First Friday, when downtown businesses remain open after hours for special evening hours and promotions.

In addition to pedestrian spaces, the downtown collaborative group has created subcommittees to study areas such as parking and marketing to enhance the commercial climate downtown.

For example, the group is working with Dartmouth College to organize tours of the downtown for incoming first-year students to encourage them to venture off campus.

“Some students expressed that many young people don’t know what’s in the downtown; that there may be businesses that they don’t even know we have,” Torpey said. “Before we try to bring in new businesses, which we are already trying to do, we want people to know what is already here.”

Business owners interested in attending future meetings of the collaborative are encouraged to contact Torpey by email at alex.torpey@hanovernh.org.

“I encourage new businesses to come out as well because it’s been a great place to share ideas,” Torpey said.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.