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Forging a future from the legacy of the past


Ashland tackles revitalization



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Tucked away in a quiet corner of Ashland, behind the architectural offices of Samyn D’Elia, lies a tiny, formerly abandoned hydro-plant that used to generate power for local manufacturing from the water power flowing over this picturesque dam. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
October 06, 2010
ASHLAND—It will take a lot of elbow grease, not to mention chutzpah, vision and the power of sheer determination, but with all that, and a little luck, Andrew and Chris Lane hope to transform the complex of abandoned L.W. Packard woolen mill and manufacturing buildings in Ashland's Lower Village into a hub of commercial activity for the 21st Century.

The Lanes purchased the property four years ago, and have succeeded in repairing and restoring the central hydro-plant to full function, generating electricity for the grid and buying back what they need to support tenants that have already moved in at the site. But they have ambitious plans for the future and the will to carry them out, including the patience and persistence to work hard to bring their dreams to fruition over the long haul.

"Ashland is a something of a diamond in the rough," said Chris Lane in an interview at her office at the Hill Street Business Park last week. "I don't mean that in a derogatory way at all. This town has three museums in the downtown area. How many towns can boast that? It is a wonderful, small town community with so much potential. It's just that when the mill closed 11 years ago, Ashland lost as many as 600 jobs, 300 of them in the L.W. Packard facility itself, but many in the surrounding community also. I'm a big believer that if you fix it up, the business will come. It's all about bringing prosperity back to this community again."

With the central power plant in good shape, the couple has turned their attention to a second hydro plant across the street. With any luck, they will have that plant up and running in no time.

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The wheels of progress? It’s a labor of love for New Hampshire entrepreneurs Andrew and Chris Lane, who are working to restore this Hydro-electric power plant to full function as part of an ambitious effort to renovate and revitalize the former L.W. Packard Mill Building, warehouse and office complex in Ashland’s lower village. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
Where some people would see the ruins of legacy lost, Chris sees the foundation for the future, and for the enterprising couple with a perspective on the possible, it all starts with renewable energy.

Chris says that the attraction of the property initially was in the hydro-power on site.

"We both like the idea of renewable energy," she explains. "We knew we were never going to make a lot of money off it. With all the repairs that needed to be done on the old Hydro, we are only now beginning to turn a corner on generating electricity, but New Hampshire has this great natural resource, and we should use it. It is just the right thing to do."

The Mill Street Business Park is currently occupied by a number of diverse tenants, from artists' studios to a retail wood stove shop to a small production facility. But Chris Lane would like to assemble "critical mass" at the location – a constellation of supporting businesses, including retail, food service, small scale manufacturing, and offices that would anchor a rejuvenation of Ashland's lower village.

Chris Lane's enthusiasm and willingness to pitch in has helped to re-ignite community efforts for Ashland downtown revitalization. The Revitalization Committee, organized last year, is meeting regularly and undertaking a number of projects to promote Ashland as an attractive, business friendly community.

Former Town Administrator Tim Cullenen was instrumental in getting downtown revitalization efforts underway, and newly appointed Interim Town Administrator Paul Branscombe is taking up the cause with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm. Grafton County Economic Development Director Mark Scarano and Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce Director Scott Stephens have both been rolling up the sleeves and diving in to get projects going. Legendary entrepreneur and Common Man founder Alex Ray has also been very supportive of the revitalization committee.

Current projects include developing a map and guide to existing businesses, building an informational kiosk to welcome people to town, and a number of initiatives designed to improve the "curb appeal" of the downtown area.

Chris Lane has herself worked diligently on landscape improvements and plantings at the Mill complex itself, "little by little" improving the look of the park and making it more attractive to visitors and potential tenants.

The Mill Street Business Park is located at 6 Mill St. in Ashland, about a mile from I-93, just off the Main Street in the lower village. More information on Ashland's revitalization efforts or the Mill Street office/retail/industrial complex can be obtained at t 898-4450 or by e-mail at christinejlane@aol.com.

Stay tuned to these pages in the Record Enterprise for further developments on Ashland's downtown revitalization efforts and developments at the Mill.

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