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Brooks says Berlin has to find its niche

November 24, 2009
BERLIN — Berlin has to determine its own niche in a rebranded Cos County.

That's according to Roger Brooks, the consultant working on the "Grand Hotels, Grand Adventures" branding initiative for the region.

"What do you want to be known for in 20 years?" he said.

Residents are the ones who have to decide how the city fits in, he told a group of city councilors, business owners, chamber representatives, city staff and others at the White Mountains Community College on Wednesday.

"When I first came here I thought why couldn't Berlin become the provisioning headquarters for New Hampshire Grand?" he said. The provisioning headquarters is the place where people stock up on all the supplies they need for their adventure, he explained. "Being the hub is being the place where people stay. You could be New Hampshire Grand's marketplace."

The city needs its own brand leadership team, Mr. Brooks told the group, to implement its own rebranding effort.

"You have to be different," he said, "or you have to prove to be the best. What do you have in Berlin that I can't do or get closer to home?"

Berlin is the only city in the county, he said "the only place where you could have that urban experience." That is the avenue he said he sees most obvious for the city to pursue.

But the city can't be the leader of this effort, he said.

"You always start with the property owners," he said. "Brands must be from the ground up."

The city should create a brand leadership team of no more than 13 people, he said, seven from the private sector with a vested interest in the effort. The other six members are supporting positions. These people act as brand champions and brand police, ensuring businesses adhere to the brand and the correct mix of businesses fill an area in order to draw a crowd.

The committee can't run the brand, however, because committees are slow to act, he said. "If we tried to do branding by public consent we'd still be working on it. You have one chance to do this."

Mr. Brooks made a number of suggestions on what the city could do to increase its ability to draw people. There are ways to drive traffic north on Route 16. He said if the downtown had a name, instead of just being called the downtown, with a sign at the Route 2 and 16 intersection, people would drive up because they are curious. That's a simply way to increase traffic, he said.

But many of his ideas were more elaborate. He suggested creating a sunken plaza, several steps down, with a sprinkler system in it. The sprinklers would attract children and families in the summer, he said, which would in turn attract vendors. The water could be shut off to create a venue for music or art shows, he said, and in winter it could be flooded to make a skating rink.

Visitors want to hang out where the locals hang out, he said, and right now young people go to North Conway to hang out. Create a space in Berlin for your young people, he said, and that will create a place for visitors.

Mr. Brooks said an outdoor music venue could be a big draw, as can a critical mass of quality locally owned retail businesses. The city needs to rehabilitate one block, he said, and then one more, then one more. The first one takes time, he said, but soon everyone will want to follow suit.

The key, he said, is that Berlin residents and business people sign on to the idea. The businesses have to be on board, he said, in order for a branding effort to work. That means some changes.

"Eighty percent of visitor spending happens after 6 p.m.," he said. "Is any place in Cos County open after six?"

Berlin has to be ready to cater to tourists, he said, and that means changing some habits. The brand leadership team would be in charge of making that happen.

The city could consider hiring a consultant, he said, which would likely cost between $60,000 and $85,000. Often there are community development block grants available for rebranding efforts, he said, removing some of the burden.

That effort wouldn't be about planning, Mr. Brooks said; it would be about doing. It would be an action plan, with concrete steps to remake the city, not a strategic planning session. Do step one first, then step two, then so on, he said, to create results.

"During this whole process Berlin was on the side," he said, and now it seems there is interest in getting on board with the rebranding effort. "You only need one block to get it started."

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