Exit 6 center changes mulled

NASHUA – A new name, a few more signs, food and beverages and an access ramp were among the most-suggested changes for the Exit 6 welcome center.

A study committee, formed by the Legislature to examine the center, met Tuesday night at City Hall to discuss the center’s future.

The committee is made up of six members who will report their findings to the House of Representatives and the Senate by the first week of November.

The state-owned property is being looked at to see if other uses should be added or if it should be sold or leased.

Rep. Paul Laflamme, R-Nashua, authored the bill to form the committee and said at the meeting that the facility is being underutilized.

Sen. Joe Foster, a member of the study committee, said the welcome center in Salem has about 10 times the traffic that the local center has.

One of the biggest surprises to many at the meeting is the number of people who use the center: more than 130,000 last year. According to employees who work there, that is only a fraction of the real number.

Joyce Clement, a center employee, said the counter on the door of the building only picks up some of the people who enter. Last week, she said, 215 students got off four buses that stopped at the facility and the counter only picked up 64.

Clement said the counter works when a person opens the door; if people hold the door open for others, the count becomes inaccurate.

“It’s a very well-utilized area,” she said. “The tourists love it.”

Clement was joined at the meeting by other employees who supported the center.

Paul Lacasse was one who called the center a potential “gold mine” for Nashua. He said many of the people who use the center want to know what there is to do in the city.

The only two informational handouts the center has to give to visitors, however, are for the Hunt Memorial Building and the Historical Society, he said.

Also, the Nashua Pride did not provide game schedules for the center, provided several hundred schedules.

Lacasse said the visitors are looking for food and better access to the area.

Alderman Marc Plamondon said the signage for the center should be made clearer and should show the names of restaurants and services in the area.

“I’ve heard over and over, the signage is extremely poor,” he said.

Other suggestions for the center made by aldermen and state representatives included changing the name from a welcome center to a rest area, adding a ramp that leads directly to the center, relocating the Department of Motor Vehicles office from Harris Pond in Merrimack to the center, and adding a state liquor store, or state police substation.

The fact that the center is also unable to be seen from the highway because it is surrounded by foliage was also brought up by several people.

The center is 4,800 square feet, with 130 parking spaces for cars, and eight parking spaces for trucks. It has outdoor telephones, a river walk, a fenced-in pet enclosure and picnic tables. Inside the building there are restrooms and a courtesy desk that is staffed around the clock.

At the meeting Laflamme read a list of suggestions made by center employees that included adding an ATM machine, adding telephones inside the building, adding a vending machine with maps of New Hampshire and souvenirs, selling toll tokens, and adding a bus stop for people traveling to Massachusetts, or a park and ride center.