Bradford is taking community approach to future economic development

Willie, West & McGinty, one of the most popular acts on vaudeville, arose from local performers who appeared on the second-floor stage at the old town hall in Bradford in the early 20th century. “The act was a carefully calibrated and timed ‘ballet’ of inept workers creating a shambles instead of the building they were supposed to construct,” according to one commentator. Selectman Jim Bibbo says the local stage helped develop scores of similarly talented people.

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – On the heels of the planning board’s recent “visioning” session that allowed residents to talk about how they’d like to see the town develop, Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the selectboard, is starting a Bradford economic development group.

Bibbo says he’s been interested in economic development on the state and regional levels for many years, and now wants to help the town develop its own ideas.

“We are just beginning to pull together to do this,” said Karen Hambleton, the town administrator. “We decided to call it ‘community development’ because we want to build community within the community (of the group).”

The new, unofficial committee, which has only met twice, currently numbers about 10 people, Bibbo said. The group is working with Jared Reynolds, a Merrimack County community and economic development specialist who works for the UNH’s Coop Extension.

“When it was a theater there were people who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.’

Selectman Jim Bibbo

Community planners have long advocated for sound economic development plans. A good one can help stabilize the town’s tax base while insuring growth that maintains the community character that residents enjoy.

“The town needs to grow,” Bibbo explained. “Our tax bases isn’t that large. There’s not a lot of business as compared to other towns.”

At the planning board’s visioning meeting last month, residents talked about their hopes for a business revival in the village with more tourism-related enterprises and other enterprises. Growing the town while maintain its rural and historic character was also discussed.

The meeting was aimed at providing input as the planning board begins updating the town’s Master Plan. The new unofficial community development group will also work with the town’s previous official functions, Bibbo said. “The committee is going to have to stay within the Master Plan,” he explained.

The selectman said he has no specific goals for the group, and that he wants it to chart its own course in the coming months. The members will begin working on a vision statement and goals as they move through the committee’s initial growth stages.

Bibbo expressed optimism about plans to continue developing the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail through Bradford, and would like to see repairs on some of the sidewalks on West Main Street.

In addition, he’s been a proponent for completing the improvements to the Old Town Hall, and confessed to being disappointed that town voters didn’t support the project moving forward at the annual March meeting. The historic structure can add to economic revival, particularly if the second floor theater is revived. “That would benefit not just Bradford but also surrounding communities,” he said.

“When it was a theater there were people from Bradford who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty, they were vaudeville stars. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.”

Cressy has another connection to Bradford’s possible economic future, the selectman said. “He owned all the land in back of East Main Street where the community center is now,” he explained. “That’s one of the projects we’ve put in to the state, to put a road back there that would run parallel to Route 103.”

Right now that property is part of a Brownfield Project, which means it has pollution problems that need to be resolved before any construction project can be begin, Bibbo said.

Anyone interested in joining the new committee is encouraged to contact Bibbo or Hambleton, the town administrator, at (603) 938-5900 or administrator@bradfordnh.org

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

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Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Bradford, NH, residents imagine their future

By Ray Carbone

 

BRADFORD – A crowd of about 50 residents gathered at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last week to discuss what they’d like to see when the planning board updates the town’s master plan later this year.

In a series of discussions, the group talked about their hope for a business revival in the village, local business establishments taking advantage of the steady year-round road traffic on Route 103, and the continuation of the town’s focus on preserving and developing both its historic character and its agricultural economy.

The primary focus of the meeting was to review and discuss issues raised by more than 160 residents who had responded to a survey the planning board published last year. Pam Bruss, chairman of the board, told the meeting that the results generally mirrored trends that have been identified around the state in recent years, including a growing older population and the exodus of younger people from New Hampshire.

The large group then split into four sub-groups where specific areas of concern were addressed. A member of the planning board worked with a professional planner from the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to help identify benefits and challenges that should be considered when plotting Bradford’s future.

‘I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower.’

One issue that came up several times was the need for increased commercial development, particularly in the village area. Several residents noted that there are some lots there where well water is at least partly polluted, while others pointed to some septic problems.

When Matt Monahan, one of the CNHPC planners, suggested that the town might consider some kind of well water and/or wastewater district, the residents reported that previous attempts in that direction had met with property tax-related resistance. “The attitude is, if those people (n the village) want it, let them pay for it,” one man said.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower,” said another citizen, while others laughed in recognition.

Monahan said that poor cell phone and internet services present significant challenges for businesses.

He also suggested that successful business operations could be drawn to town by looking at national trends and reducing them for the town’s population. “For instance, healthcare. What does that mean for Bradford,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not going to a hospital but it could mean a doctor.”

The remark led to a general discussion of desirable businesses for the town, including a CVS-like pharmacy/grocery store, eating establishments and additional agritourism operations, like the Sweet Beet Market. “But not a chain,” said one man, as others in the group nodded. “It should be homegrown, a mom-and-pop operation.”

In another corner of the room, Audrey V. Sylvester spoke with folks concerned about the town’s historic character. She quoted from a report written by Christopher W. Closs, a professional planner from Hopkinton: “As a corridor, West Main Street represents one of the better-preserved surviving 19th century village residential districts in rural New Hampshire.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Claire James, the planning board’s vice-chairman, announced that her group would review the participants’ comments and observations, then begin coordinating them with the survey results and other information. Then, the members would begin drafting the master plan. Portions of the document will be discussed at several public meetings and the final draft will be presented to at least one public hearing before it is offered to voters for their consideration

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

Sweet Beet Market ready to sprout again soon

Photo: The old Bradford Inn on West Main Street has been undergoing significant renovations this winter. Now, with a recent approval from the planning board, its primary tenant, the Sweet Beet Market, is planning to reopen in a few weeks. (Ray Carbone)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Fans of the Sweet Beet Market, the community’s local natural foods outlet, will be glad to learn that the town’s planning board recently approved a change-of-use request from the owners of the former Bradford Inn. The official okay allows the nonprofit food organization to continue to operate and expand its services in the 120-year-old building.

According to the unapproved minutes from the planners’ May 22 meeting, the board unanimously approved a proposal that permits the inn’s owners, Unless, LLC, of Bradford, to move forward with renovating the aged three-story structure from a lodging establishment to a combination market-café-kitchen and office space facility.

Throughout the winter, members of the Kearsarge Food Hub, which manages Sweet Beet, have been working alongside Mike Bauer and his team from Bauer Construction of Bradford, as well as Mike James (who co-owns Unless, LLC, with Bauer) on renovations and restoration of the 10,000-square foot wooden structure. The market and a new independent on-site café are hoping to be open for business again around the July Fourth weekend.

Last week Bauer was calmly painting windowsills in the old hotel. His son, Garrett Bauer, a member of Sweet Beet’s board of directors, was frantically overseeing several budding projects: meeting with the new cafe’s managers about tables, talking with a plumber, and connecting with some possible new vendors. (The market has had more than 300 vendors since it opened in 2016; its motto, “30 Producers Within 30 Miles,” reflects its efforts to use virtually all-local suppliers.)

The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses.

The Bauers have lived on the other side of West Main Street from the old Bradford Inn for more than 30 years. Over the years, Mike has often daydreamed about restoring and renovating the historic structure.

Now, it’s finally happening, in ways he may have never imagined.

In 2016, Unless, LLC, bought the building and soon struck up a partnership with the Food Hub, which was then operating Sweet Beet as a seasonal farm stand. The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building, while maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place for people to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses. “Unless feels strongly about sustainability and community wellness,” according to the Food Hub’s website.

Sweet Beet moved into the east side of the building’s first floor in 2016 and became a year-round market.

Last year, the community raised $30,000 to help the Food Hub pay for the creation of a 700-square-foot, shared-used commercial kitchen that will be located on the west side of the building. It will be used for making Sweet Beet’s baked goods as well as items that could be used in the bakery and/or for private enterprises, Garrett Bauer explained. The demise of several popular local bakeries, including German John’s in Hillsboro and Tart Café in Andover, made some excellent bakery equipment available at a reasonable price, he added.

This past winter, the market closed while important renovations in the building moved forward, including updating the heat and septic systems and re-designing the entire first floor, including the new kitchen.

The market will now include new shelving and expanded veggie display areas.

In the middle space, behind the inn’s original front door, two new rooms have been opened up. One will be the site of the new Main Street Café, while the large former dining room towards the front will be used for a variety of community events from meetings to performances to cooking classes.

It’s taken a while, but it looks like the Sweet Beet will soon start growing again – and the old Bradford Inn may soon bloom as well.

Note: Late last week, Sweet Beet announced it would participate in the Bradford Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, June 30. A special all-day program featuring music by Odd Bodkins, Kathy Lowe, the DoBros and more, as well as other artists, local foods, etc. will be at the old Bradford Inn, 11 West Main St., Bradford.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

 

 

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