Manchester Locale Heroes: Peter Ramsey & Liz Hitchcock
About this series: Meet our Local Heroes, a special band of folks dedicating their lives to making things even better in the great Granite State places they have chosen to live and work and play.
Peter Ramsey is many things to many people: family man, coach, lawyer, former state rep and present-day legislative insider, Manchester Citizen of the Year for 2020 and tireless supporter of arts and culture in the Queen City. To most people, though, he’s just that guy who always seems to be chatting and shaking hands in the entryway to the Palace Theatre before and after virtually every show.
As president and CEO of the Palace for a quarter of a century, it really is a second home to him. And as attuned as he is to the pulse of the state through his many board and committee roles, it’s the pulse of that historic and living theater that synchronizes with his own. For most of the past few decades, the whole city has relied upon the illuminated Palace marquee on Hanover Street as the pilot light for city culture.
“I’ve been downtown for 25 years, and 25 years ago it was dark,“ says Ramsey. “I mean dark economically, dark socially and, well, the streetlights didn’t work, so it really was a different time. We were just coming out of an economic recession and, over the years, a lot of really good-hearted people have called Manchester their home. Step by step we’re making progress.”
As he speaks, he’s standing at the rear of the Palace Theatre’s newest extension, the completely refurbished Rex Theatre on Amherst Street where a huge mural (one of many to recently grace downtown walls) brightens up the alleyways. The Rex was a decaying shell of a downtown movie theatre that now promises to bring an additional 50,000 people to enjoy Manchester nightlife and dining.
“The good news is that people want to live here,” says Ramsey. “We have a very diverse economy: a lot of high tech, a lot of medical, a lot of education, and that bodes well for the future.” When asked what the city needs to continue its recent surge, he replies, “The state must become a partner in essential items like mental health and support of education. It’s critical that the state realize that half the people in New Hampshire live in the cities.”
Liz Hitchcock, standing with Ramsey as a photographer adjusts his strobe for a portrait of them both, chimes in, “Truthfully, I think the biggest barrier to the city’s future is PR communications and our own heads. We need to think more forward and less backward and be excited for where we’re headed,” she says.
Like Ramsey, Hitchcock has been devoting herself to visionary work in Manchester. She and her husband, Jeremy, have worked behind the scenes since their tech company Dyn took up residence in the millyard a decade and a half ago, attracting a surge in young people seeking both places to live and places to have fun in Manchester. Among her recent entrepreneurial and investment efforts, Hitchcock brought The Bookery to Elm Street in the heart of downtown and developed The Factory on Willow — a 100,000-square-foot space nearby with an artist-in-residency program. Her vision is to attract more young creatives and more visionaries to create a snowball effect.
“The Factory is full, residentially, and we have the 16 Airbnbs on-site, which really give a nice option for our event space and for our tenant, which is Double Midnight Comics.” The comic book connection to her vision might puzzle some, but she says, “It’s art. It’s all art. It’s all literary art, too. So it’s really a perfect fit.”
The last pieces to pull together on-site are the amphitheater, which the Factory’s food truck patio overlooks, and a new distillery. “We’re in the process of a national search for the distiller,” she says. “I think in the end, when you have something that works nationally or internationally, you can do it from anywhere.
“The biomanufacturing movement that’s occurring right now in the downtown mills is internationally renowned, and it’s really sad that more Manchester people don’t understand the amazing stuff that’s happening right here,” she says, noting she took the artsy staff of Orbit Group, her tech and real estate company, to check it out. “We held the ghost heart,” says Hitchcock, with pure, nerdy enthusiasm. “They take the heart of a pig, take off all the DNA and then they ‘scaffold’ human DNA onto it.”
Hitchcock recalls the words of a woman who, after an unproductive series of economic development meetings, exclaimed: “All you have to do is one thing, and then keep on doing one thing over and over again and it will create such an amazing path forward.” She took those words to heart: “So we keep on doing new ‘one things’ over and over again to create some amazing culture in our city.”