Resident makes it his business to revive downtown Bristol

You could almost say Steve Favorite inherited Bristol’s revitalization effort from his father.

“My dad helped develop the town’s first master plan back in the ‘60s,” said Favorite, a telecommunications consultant and Bristol resident for 38 years. “This is the fourth time the master plan has been redone. Never have they made any plans for or set aside any money for the downtown.”

This time, however, Favorite is seeking to change that. He was an alternate on the Bristol Planning Board, but quickly moved into a full position as another member could not fulfill his duties. Armed with little more than infectious enthusiasm, Favorite has launched a grass-roots downtown revitalization campaign.

Bristol, with a population just over 3,000, is arguably poised to take off. Located on the shores of Newfound Lake, it has easy access to Interstate 93 and several ski resorts. But like many towns, the economy has hit hard. The area’s major employer, manufacturer Freudenburg-NOK, has laid off hundreds of workers, leaving few who could afford to frequent the myriad of antique shops in Bristol’s downtown.

“We also have a lot of history,” Favorite pointed out. “We are home to one of the oldest train turnstiles and were once the site of one of the largest manufacturers of crutches.”

Despite the knocks the local economy has taken from recent layoffs, the downtown area has only a handful of vacancies, according to Favorite. But in a town the size of Bristol, that can be enough. Favorite is passionate when he says, “If your town doesn’t have a downtown, it doesn’t have a heart.”

His goal, like most downtown plans, is to bring people in — not just outsiders, but residents as well. He’s personally kicked off the revitalization project by getting 20 to 30 volunteers and local elementary school children to plant Christmas trees in whiskey barrels around the town green at sites where trees will be permanently placed. One of his first major projects will be to move several town monuments and replace the dead fir tree on the town square.

“A veteran stopped me, concerned I was moving the monuments,” said Favorite. “And I said, ‘I am, and you’re going to help me. I’m moving them to a better location so they can be seen and I’m going to put in solar lights, so they’ll never go dim. The rest of the town could go dark, but those veterans on those war monuments will never be forgotten.’ And guess what, he helped me and the schoolchildren plant trees. For five hours!”

Some of the other projects Favorite said he hopes to see accomplished are a walking and biking path from Newfound Lake to Bristol, a skate park for children, a Solar Day (an educational forum to learn more about solar energy) and more businesses to fill the vacant shop fronts.

Favorite knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. Money is a challenge — both in proving to the town government the worthiness of his cause and raising capital. To date, he’s only received a $250 check from a Realtor who attended his first informational meeting; the rest has come out of Favorite’s own pocket.

But he’s also fighting with some hardcore tools. He’s enlisted the aid of Public Service of New Hampshire to conduct an evaluation of the town’s street lights and come up with recommendations for better downtown lighting. He’s attended several meetings hosted by the New Hampshire Main Street Center, which provides technical assistance to towns undergoing revitalization efforts.

“Unfortunately, it was too much too soon. As of this time, we can’t meet the entrance criteria. We have to do little steps first,” said Favorite, who’s also planning to bring in a grant writer and architect to help with his campaign.

“I want to raise the public’s awareness of the importance of the town,” said Favorite. “I want to get the people of Bristol to think of the future, not just the past.”

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