NEWPORT — Jay Lucas recalls the old days, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, when Newport was home to a bustling Downtown.
“Now it’s not as full and bustling as it used to be,” he said.
“Let’s make Newport the best it can be.”
Lucas grew up in Newport, living across from the Newport Common and next to Richards Free Library. His memories of what he calls the “old days” are quite clear and he doesn’t want them to fade away.
Now chairman of The Lucas Group doing business out of the 25th floor at 475 Park Avenue S. in New York City, Lucas said he is trying to take the great spirit and energy Newport used to have with a three-point plan.
Energy and enthusiasm
Action, wants to make things happen.
Wants this to be inclusive and include area communities such as Goshen, Croydon, Unity and Lempster.
On Friday evening, 60 people crowded the third floor of The Salt hill Pub on Main Street for a Lucas-led session that lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes. And it was positive from start to finish.
The Newport Sunshine Initiative covered the exciting plans and progress now underway by supporters.
Including the Friday gathering, there have been four meetings. “The first attracted 12 people, the second 20 and more at the third meeting,” Lucas said. And now 60.
Folks in the audience spoke about the possibilities existing in Newport, what it has and what it needs.
Lucas already has a preliminary list in place that he shared. “We are beginning to generate some great ideas to pursue,” he revealed.
That list includes Arts and Culture, Community Center, Hotels/Lodging, Micro-Brewery. Housing/Micro Housing, Computer Programming/JAVA/Coding, Fellowship Program, Hiring ‘Point Person.
The Computer Programming is currently in the works. “We’re working with several New York City based digital firms to create a training program for 20 Newport area students to learn skills and have ability to perform digital work remotely while continuing to live in the Newport community,” Lucas said.
This 12-weeek program will be available in the fall for 20 students in Newport who will be able to work here and live here, according to Lucas. “I think it will be phenomenal.”
Superintendent of Schools Cindy Gallagher updated the group on the work being done to construct a new Community Center for Newport.
Jeff Kessler, chairman of the Newport Board of Selectmen, said when Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg came to town he saw the need for a new Community Center. “We either drop the ball or make the investment,” Kessler continued.
The Community Center will give us more leverage and draw people to Newport, he said.
“That would be a magnet,” Lucas responded.
“For a number of years Cindy and other have been discussing the future of the town’s young people,” said Roy Malool, a major supporter of Lucas’ plan.
Not all high school graduates go on to college, one speaker noted. The importance of the trades and young people remaining in the community was mentioned. “
“We have this opportunity in Newport to be a leader,” Lucas said.
“We’re looking to have businesses to endorse students who go to River Valley Community College,” Gallagher said.
Michele Perkins, president of New England College, spoke about a new program at the Henniker College. “If you want to go to college you should be able to,” Perkins stated.
A new program now in place allows students to earn an associate’s degree in 15 months by taking two classes on line every seven weeks with no time off during that period, even in the summer.
“In the end, if you want to go to work you can. If not, you can come to NEC and we will take every one of your credits and transfer them,” said Dr. Matt Wood of NEC, formerly president at Community College in Berlin.
“A lot of jobs we know require some college. This plan is so affordable and accelerated,” Lucas stated.
David Tille of Concord, New England Regional Administrator for HUD, was also at the Friday meeting. “How do we make a difference in a town like Newport? “Grants,” was his one-word answer.
Tille talked about sharing the Newport plan with other counterparts. “We can bring Federal agencies to you and get them out of their silos,” he noted.
“We need enthusiasm and people in the room where you all want to be. We’ve got to stop talking and do something,” Malool said.
“This a remarkable town and we’re very excited and grateful to be here,” said David Lantz of Harrington’s Jewelers.
John H. Smith of Bedford, a businessman, spoke about drugs, opioids and working with Lucas in Newport.