New downtown group director has big plans for Nashua

A writer once said of New Hampshire and Vermont that the two states make a perfect pairing – one thick in the bottom, the other at the top. One is strong where the other is weak, and vice versa.

Suzanne Butler, who took over as executive director of Nashua’s Great American Downtown organization, views Manchester and Nashua in a similar way.

“One big goal I have, I’d really like to see Nashua and Manchester working together. I think we should be marketing ourselves together,” said Butler, who recently wrapped up a 4-1/2-year stint as marketing director of Intown Manchester.

Both her former and new positions are geared toward supporting merchants and pitching downtown for money-spending customers.

One difference is funding: Intown Manchester gets income from a tax surcharge levied on businesses in the downtown area. Nashua GAD doesn’t have a source of income and must rely on money raised by events and from donations.

Downtown Manchester has a busy lunch scene, but most of the restaurants close in the afternoon, Butler said.

On the other hand, Nashua has a lively evening scene for downtown diners, she said.

That’s one way in which the two cities differ, but can complement each other, Butler said.

“Nashua’s in a prime position for change. They have a great reputation,” she said. But Nashua shouldn’t try to duplicate Manchester in some areas. The obvious example is if the city tried to build a large arena, like Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena, only 20 minutes away.

“Nashua and Manchester should be looking to complement each other,” she said. “I think we can be much better complementing each other than we can be competing.”

‘Natural progression’

Butler’s arrival in Nashua is part of a game of musical chairs being played among officials of downtown marketing groups.

Her predecessor at GAD, Sarah DiSano, left to take over as director of the Downtown Resource Center in Concord. In March, Tracy Bardsley will replace Karin Lagro as Milford’s Downtown Ongoing Improvement Team (DO-IT) director. Bardsley will leave her post as Wilton Main Street Association program manger she held for three years.

This sort of cross-pollination among downtown organizations should help all the groups work together, noted Sherrilyn Alden Bellavance, vice president of the GAD board of directors.

In fact, Butler’s background working in a larger city made her an ideal candidate for the GAD job, Alden Bellavance said.

“I just think she was the next step we should take,” Alden Bellavance said, adding that she believes the experience Butler brings will help GAD realize some of the successes Manchester has at promoting its downtown.

In turn, being named to the highest job at the downtown organization in the state’s second-largest city “seems like a natural progression” for a woman holding the second-highest job at the downtown organization in the state’s largest city, Alden Bellavance said.

She said that Butler would be good at working with events – not only the large ones like A Taste of Nashua and the Downtown Stroll, but also the smaller ones that Manchester does to draw people.

“I think there really is a renewed interest in downtowns, and downtowns are seeing more support. They appreciate the discounts you can get with the big-box stores, but they understand that more money comes back in the local economy when you’re buying from your neighbors. And that it is a fun experience to be downtown and to walk around on a beautiful day. Who wants to be in a mall on a beautiful day? I know I don’t. It’s the last place I want to be,” Butler said.

An Intown Manchester event that has been successful is called Buskers on the Bricks, which brings street performers to the City Hall Plaza to entertain lunchtime crowds during the summer.

“It’s not about having a big audience. It’s really about creating a big ambiance. It’s about workers coming out on the streets,” Butler said. “If a few people sit and a lot of people walk by, and they’re smiling, that’s exactly what we’re trying to go for. They come out, they grab their lunch, and they go, ‘Wow, I’ve got all of these different places to choose from, all these different places to eat, and isn’t this cool, what a lively city we’re in here. You know, we’re in New Hampshire, and we have this environment.’”

Butler said she looks forward to working to stir up that same sort of excitement in Nashua.

“I think Nashua has a lot going for it – great restaurants, shopping, history, arts and culture and quality of life,” Butler said. “It is a great place to raise a family, work and play.”

She added: “I wanted to work for Great American Downtown because of several reasons. One, I love this type of work, downtown revitalization, and had hoped that if I was to move on to a new job that I could stay in the field. Two, I am the type of person that needs to believe in what I ‘sell’ and I believe in Nashua. Three, the organization has a solid foundation and receives great support from the community, the city and board of directors.” – PATRICK MEIGHAN/THE TELEGRAPH