So Unique, In So Many Ways

The roof of a building at the corner of Pleasant Street and Mason Street collapsed yesterday. The public works director, fire chief and code enforcement officer assessed the structure and declared it unsafe. They called the company demolishing the southern burnt out building on Main Street and asked if they could use the excavator for a few minutes. The excavator drove up Main Street, demolished the building with the faulty roof, and then drove back down Main Street to finish its job there.

By lunchtime it was over.

Around that time the news director for NHPR sent me an email asking if I wanted to do a 45 second piece on the building collapse for the night’s newscast. He closed the email with, “Not a good sign for that tourist destination,” a reference to the story I did last week. In most circumstances it would be true, but he didn’t understand Berlin. I don’t understand Berlin either, but I am familiar enough with the city that my gut reaction to the situation was it was positive.

I first learned of the roof collapse on Twitter, from pictures posted by Katie Paine and others. The first thing I did was shoot off an email to city staff to ask if I’d missed a property scheduled for demolition. I even posted a note on Twitter congratulating Housing Coordinator Andre Caron for taking down another one. It wasn’t until I got an email back that I found out it wasn’t planned.

I told NHPR I would happily do the story, but I wasn’t going to take the angle it was a bad thing for the city. He was reacting as anyone would—it’s hard to imagine a building collapsing is a good thing—but I explained that things are different in Berlin.
That the city doesn’t have to pay to tear down the building is a good thing. That the city didn’t have to go through the RSA 155-B process is a good thing. That the city was able to reduce it’s excess properties by one is a good thing. From the point of view of the city, if all the vacant buildings could spontaneously give way without hurting anyone it would be a huge relief.
But think about that if you aren’t from Berlin. Think about that if you live in a city with too few properties. I have heard numerous complaints about how the southern part of the state ignores and denigrates the North Country. I don’t think that’s true; I think they simply don’t understand it.

When StoryCorps came to Berlin NHPR announced the dates it would be there and told people to sign up online. I did a story on the StoryCorps coming to the city for the Reporter, so I called NHPR to see how things were going. The woman I talked to said they weren’t getting a lot of people signing up and they didn’t understand why not. I told her they need a phone number in addition to the website because a lot of the people they were trying to reach aren’t on the Internet. When I saw her at the opening she thanked me for helping them connect with residents, something they hadn’t been effective at before.

Last night at city hall, as the election results were coming in, people were speaking in French. That is a wonderful piece of heritage I hope Berlin never loses, though it is doubtlessly difficult to preserve today. It is a facet of the community I notice all the time, and it’s something that makes me smile, simply because its a mystery to me.

To the rest of the state, all of Berlin speaks French, and it isn’t something they understand. In a lot of ways non-industrial economic development stopped south of the notches. A city so rooted in its traditions and its heritage is not something a society of transients is familiar with. What might make perfect sense anywhere else in the state is turned on its head in Berlin. It is a city unlike any other.

The news director asked me if I really thought it was worth the time to report the story of the building, seeing as people in Berlin didn’t see it as a disaster. Yes, I said, it is worth reporting, but not because a building collapsed. It’s news because it isn’t a disaster. It’s news because as the city fights its way out of the economic malaise it has been in for the last several decades it creates situations that defy rationality. It’s news because people are happy to see one more building go down, because it signals the rebirth of the city. It’s news because the rest of the state doesn’t understand this, and because they don’t understand they don’t know what to think of the city.

But it isn’t news that can fit into a 45 second spot. It isn’t a story easily told in a few short sentences. It is a story that goes back a century, and it is a story that happened just yesterday. I watch it unfold, and most of it I can’t put into the newspaper. It is more broad, more emotive and more powerful than I can capture in print. It is truly a spectacular transformation, one residents have been yearning for for generations. Berlin is shedding its skin, growing into a new self even it doesn’t understand. I will never be able to finish telling that story.

But I will continue to try.

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3 thoughts on “So Unique, In So Many Ways

  1. Mr. Bartoszek,Maybe you do have a signed rate sheet, and that would make the PSNH attorney's statement false…or let's see…in this day and age…perhaps he just misunderstood Gary Long and quoted inaccurately under oath before the PUC that such an agreement was simply a "twinkle in Laidlaw's eyes". You're damn right I'm furious about the negative situation these two businesses are creating for NH.Don't even begin to state that people around the state of NH are making something out of nothing. There is a company here that isn't shooting straight with NH. Laidlaw's reputation in Ellicotteville, a bankruptcy, along with numerous PR statements that have not come to fruition would lead anyone to be on the defensive and have the right to be on the defensive to protect the town or city they live in. Perhaps in your mind a rate sheet, still under negotiation according to a PSNH attorney who is under oath trying to prove PSNH isn't favoring one company over the other, is a power purchase agreement but somehow I have to think that you know a power purchase agreement is significantly more than that and if you did not not know that, you should have known that. Instead headlines impressed upon NH the words "Power Purchase Agreement" from PR statements your company released while the attorney representing PSNH is dancing around different details that contradict what you say as reported by the Daily Sun as follows, and as also witnessed by those in attendance of the meeting.from today's Daily Sun PUC article:Bersak said PSNH does not have acontract with Laidlaw but has agreedto a term sheet for a 20-year contractand is still negotiating price. He saidany contract would be subject to Laidlawobtaining all the necessary permitsand the approval of the PUC.“The Laidlaw deal is, I guess, a twinklein Laidlaw’s eyes at this point. But we’llcontinue to negotiate,” Bersak saidEither the price of the term sheet is still under negotiation or it isn't. If it's not under negotiation, why is a PSNH attorney under oath stating such, and going so far as to say the deal is nothing more than a "twinkle in Laidlaw's eyes" Would an attorney, under these extreme circumstances stick his neck out to that extent of that detail?As mentioned, this is a huge Berlin and New Hampshire situation where this huge 300 foot stack stands to sit idle in the way of Berlin's progress for years on overly promising PR statements that just are statistically not happening. In the mean time this situation is effectively blocking the most energy efficient biomass project potentially in the country and thumbing its nose right at the governor's 2025 initiative all over one word: GREED!Posted by: Jon Edwards | November 05, 2009 at 05:11 AM«

  2. Is this the type of term sheet we are talking about?"A term sheet is a document prepared by venture capitalists that sets forth the key terms of a proposed investment. The temptation for the entrepreneur is to focus mostly on the overall valuation of the transaction. But this can be fatal. Keep in mind that a term sheet has a variety of protective clauses for the VC that can significantly reduce the valuation for the entrepreneur. As a result, it's imperative to have an experienced attorney negotiate a term sheet with you."http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/aug2008/sb20080815_418048.htm

  3. Erik, I commend you for trying to change the focus of the community away from Laidlaw, but as you can see it comes back to that topic. That rebirth you so eloquently speak about is just about to take root, but who knows what the result of the elections will do to that vision. Some of us will continue to push regardless of the shortsightedness of those with little to offer but political ambition.

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