Without a developer, Concord might buy Employment Security site
Come spring, the city could dig into its own pockets to buy the New Hampshire Employment Security site on South Main Street.
More than a year has passed since the city began working with the state to find a developer to buy the property. But Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects, said NHES is packing up to move out of the building in May – and no one has committed to move in yet.
The Concord City Council formally rejected two proposals from developers interested in the site last week in a nonpublic session, Walsh said.
But those plans had been moot weeks before, when the city’s preferred option fell through.
Both John Illick, a Vermont developer and the head of ReArch Co., and Concord developer Steve Duprey submitted plans for a new mixed-use space downtown. The council voted in December to enter a one-month negotiating period with Duprey’s team. That idea deflated when home decor studio Company C, the anchor for Duprey’s plan, pulled out in January.
Now, city officials will go back to Square One. Concord can approach new developers, Walsh said, or staff could work with either Illick or Duprey to come up with a workable plan.
“Both ReArch and Mr. Duprey are quality developers, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with them on this site in the future or on any other projects they might be interested in in the future,” Walsh said. “There
are other parties who have expressed interest in the property in the past, and we’ll likely have conversations with those parties as the process moves forward.”
The city is “exploring all the opportunities that we have that are out there,” Walsh said.
NHES has another opportunity, too. Without a developer waiting in the wings, the state could sell the building on the open market.
“That might not yield the best project for downtown that the city could get,” Walsh said.
So Concord might snatch it, just in case. The property has been appraised at $1.75 million.
“We’re also exploring (the option) of having the city acquire the property, but no decision has been made yet. . . . We’re having conversations with the state of New Hampshire about that now, so I don’t want to comment on that at the present time,” Walsh said.
The city could hold the property until it found another developer to buy it, Walsh said.
“I think we’re still looking for a high-quality, mixed-use development that would feature potential residential or restaurant uses, possibly some office space,” Walsh said.
Last year, Illick told the Monitor his mixed-use plan would span the entire block of Main Street between Fayette and Thompson streets. Duprey described his plans in an interview last spring, in which he proposed market-rate housing and retail space. Both offered to build a new public library, if the city wanted it.
Illick could not be reached for comment, but Duprey said he still hopes to see the property developed.
“We’d be interested, well, maybe,” Duprey said.
His plan had hinged on federal new market tax credits, which he has said require a very specific type of project. When Company C pulled out of his team early this year, Duprey lost both his tenant and his tax credits.
“Absent tax credits and absent a user for the space, I don’t think it’s particularly realistic at the time,” Duprey said. “Although we remain interested.”
So all the options are on the table for Concord – including pulling out the checkbook to guard a soon-to-be vacant building.
“Let me stress that no decision has yet been made as we are evaluating all options at the present time,” Walsh wrote in a follow-up email.
Free parking on Storrs
In April, the city will open 85 free parking spaces on Storrs Street and in a nearby parking lot.
Twenty-five spaces will open in the city-owned lot underneath the Centre Street overpass, which City Manager Tom Aspell said is currently free but not often used, and an additional 60 spaces would open on Storrs Street, south of Theatre Street.
Earlier this year, city staff proposed selling permits for those spaces for $100 per quarter, or $400 a year, to downtown employees to free up parking spaces on Main Street. That rate would be more than a 75 percent discount for someone who pays the regular rate for downtown parking, according to a report by Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.
But some downtown business owners argued against the permits. In an email to the council last month, Gibson’s Bookstore owner Michael Herrmann said the change would require downtown employees or businesses to pay for spots they can now use for free.
“These employees are often part time and not highly compensated, so having free spaces within walking distance but far enough away to avoid disrupting commerce was a win-win for all concerned,” he wrote.
So in February, the city council asked for those parking spaces to be free instead.
“I would love to see the motion made to make those spaces available, and I’d like to do it at no cost,” Bouley said at a Feb. 10 meeting.
The spaces will be open and free beginning April 14.
Butter’s closes doors
The black-and-white sign still hangs across the entrance to Butter’s Fine Food and Wine on Sheep Davis Road, declaring the former downtown business the “best sandwiches in N.H.”
But on the door is another sign:
“After seven years of business in Concord, N.H., we have decided to close our doors. Thank you for the love and support through this amazing journey. It’s been gouda!”
The gourmet food store, which moved from 70 N. Main St. two years ago, closed earlier this month. In 2012, owner Kristy Stephens Ammann had signed a two-year lease for her strip mall storefront, located at 249 Sheep Davis Road.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet move,” she told the Monitor then. “Main Street is the birthplace of Butter’s on many levels. . . . But at the same time, economically I guess, it just makes more sense.”
Ammann did not respond to requests for comment about Butter’s closing. But on the Facebook page for the shop, she posted a note about her decision, calling her work “a journey.”
“So while Butter’s has come to a close, I will continue on with my culinary career,” she wrote.
Another gourmet food shop – Wellington’s Marketplace – is set to open at 124 N. Main St. by the end of the month.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)