EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 18, 2009

Windham's business, social potential praised

By Terry Date

WINDHAM — A businessman known for converting empty, old buildings to busy restaurants and inns envisions a new economic and social hub of shops and businesses in the Range Road and Route 111 area.

"That could be a cute Windham village," Alex Ray said. He is the owner of The Common Man in Windham, converted from a barn to a restaurant and opened in 1996.

Last night, Ray was the keynote speaker at a business forum presented by the Windham Economic Development Committee at the new high school.

Ray has completed conversion projects at more than 16 New Hampshire locations, including Concord, Claremont, Franklin, Plymouth and Manchester.

Ray said every town needs a focal point, a heart, and the Gateway Commercial District could become that for Windham.

The district, which encourages the preservation of buildings with historical significance, is in the area of the Range Road and Route 111 intersection.

Ray, who owns land there, was short on specifics but did say he was close to an agreement for development in that area.

The creation of a village comes with challenges as well as opportunity, he said.

For one, it is difficult to imagine, given the I-93 reconstruction taking place.

A new road configuration is expected in the coming years as well, with a connector road between Route 111 and Range Road.

"There's ledge on one side and swamp on the other," Ray said. But there also is beautiful land and historic properties in between, he added.

Ray's idea dovetails well with one of the town's great attractions — rural charm, according to a survey by the local economic development group.

Community Development Director Laura Scott said two of the town's strong selling points are its location and look.

"We have been able to retain New England (charm)," she said.

More than 65 businesses were represented at booths during the forum, Economic Development Committee member Ruth-Ellen Post said. About 150 people attended. Visitors and business representatives socialized in the lobby while music played.

KJ's Quartet, led by Windham High School's dean of fine arts, Karen Sayward, performed such jazz standards as "Take the 'A' Train" and "Night and Day."

Post said it was the first public event at the new school.

School Superintendent Frank Bass welcomed the businesspeople and visitors to the school.

He said students would partner with local businesses through internships, mentorships and apprenticeships to bring the real-life lessons they learned back to their classrooms.

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