• McIntyre Project

Find good in McIntyre Proposal

Posted Feb 5, 2019 at 3:01 AM

The debate over the effort to redevelop the McIntyre Federal Building in Portsmouth has certainly heated up in recent weeks and the rhetoric is reaching the boiling point.

Passion about this potential project is good, but when the rhetoric overtakes the issue it’s time to call a timeout. There is plenty of room to have a civil debate about the merits of the project as proposed and there is room in the conversation about restarting the process. This is not to say the process should be restarted, but it does acknowledge that a large group of residents needs further convincing that the process will lead to a successful conclusion for as many people as possible.

The most important goal should be to end with a project that respects the oncein-a-lifetime opportunity before the city.

The effort to acquire the McIntyre property now dates more than 10 years, so the angst bubbling up is understandable, but reaching a final plan that has widespread support isn’t going to happen with slings and arrows. Calling into question people’s motivation and making other veiled references is not the best route to a project that will honor the generational opportunity before the city. Attempting to dash the credibility of those who question the currently proposed project isn’t going to lead there either.

City Councilors Chris Dwyer, Rebecca Perkins Kwoka and Doug Roberts were appointed by Mayor Jack Blalock to a subcommittee on the McIntyre redevelopment project. In an op-ed in the Jan. 27 Seacoast Sunday, the trio said they want what is best for the city and stressed the current proposal is not a done deal. Furthermore, they encouraged continued civic engagement including attending upcoming Historic District Commission meetings that will review the project.

As part of calling for cooler heads to prevail, we will trust the subcommittee is not paying lip service to the idea that the project can still be adjusted in order to garner further, and broader, public support. The trio of councilors also encouraged residents to reach out to the City Council with thoughts and ideas.

This will be most productive if reaching out to councilors focuses on ideas to make the process and project better and not to make allegations that the process has been rigged from the start. At the same time, councilors should ease off their position that residents guided the process from the start through the early public input process. Residents did take part in those sessions and did offer guidance, but, like it or not, the public is still taking part in the input process. While much of the input on the project of late has been unfavorable, it should be respected as much as the early input.

Throughout the remaining process, all participants have to keep in mind that in a city like Portsmouth, with such a high level of civic engagement, no major project happens easily. The city’s new library had even more twists and turns than the McIntyre project. Few would argue with the quality of the finished project. The city’s middle school expansion and renovation was also a long, arduous process that involved many different points of view. Few people say the middle school should have been built off Jones Avenue as was once an option.

Few cities have had such knock-down, drag-out debates over development as Portsmouth. People in this great city, with its multitude of architecturally significant buildings, care greatly about their built environment, which means its current and future citizens, deserves only the very best. If that is acknowledged in the final phase of public input on the McIntyre project, it should come to a positive conclusion. And remember, citizens today alone are not Portsmouth; they are a part of the city’s nearly 400 years. Let’s commit to doing the best work possible to create something at the McIntyre site that will truly stand the test of time.

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