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Assisted living facility selected as development for Penacook tannery site

A company that hopes to build an assisted living facility will work to redevelop the former tannery site in Penacook, Concord officials announced yesterday. Planned redevelopment for the long-vacant site also includes a new home for the Penacook branch library and a park along the Contoocook River.

City officials entered a formal negotiation process yesterday with Weston Solutions, a development company with regional headquarters in Concord. The company’s proposal includes a 45,000 square-foot assisted living facility with 45 apartments and about 3,000 square feet of restaurant or retail space, according to Matt Walsh, the city’s assistant for special projects.

During a six-month negotiation period that began yesterday, city officials and Weston Solutions will discuss renovating an existing warehouse building on the site to relocate the Penacook branch library. The library is currently in an old police station on Merrimack Street.

“I think it’s a real good fit all around,” Ward 1 City Councilor Liz Blanchard said of the selected proposal. “I’m really happy and hopeful about the library branch and expanding that.”

If the project moves forward as planned, Walsh said construction could begin as early as 2014. He said city officials will hold meetings with Penacook residents in the coming months, and the city council will hold a public hearing and vote on the redevelopment plan next summer.

Although negotiations and plans will move forward, Walsh said the project will not be final until the council’s formal vote.

“But I think that personally I have a good feeling about their proposal,” Walsh said. “I think the council does, too, and I think we’re all fairly confident that it’s going to be a marketable project that they’re going to be able to get financing for.”

City officials talked to other developers about the former Allied Leather Tannery site after they began requesting proposals in August, Walsh said, but Weston Solutions was the only company that submitted a formal proposal.

Walsh said Penacook residents had expressed interest in having a grocery store on the old tannery property, at 27-35 Canal St.

“And importantly, we did solicit grocery store developers and grocery store operators and there was no interest in the site from any of those folks,” he said.

The city council selected Weston Solutions as its preferred developer for the site during a Nov. 13 nonpublic meeting, Walsh said. Blanchard said she would have liked to have a grocery store on the site. But she still hopes a grocery store will eventually be built elsewhere in Penacook, and she supports plans for an assisted living facility on the old tannery property.

“It was the best deal, and I certainly don’t want to just blow off everybody and leave it sitting there,” she said. “It’s obviously not going to have a grocery store in that location. That’s not going to happen.”

Weston Solutions will now negotiate a deal to purchase some of the property from the city for an assisted living facility, Walsh said. Its preliminary proposal includes building either a retail or restaurant space within its 45,000-square-foot facility. The company has told city officials it would partner with a company in the health care industry to operate the assisted living center, Walsh said.

A representative for Weston Solutions did not return messages left yesterday afternoon.

Bruce Campbell, the company’s vice president and New England regional manager, said in the city’s press release that the company is “grateful to the city for being given this opportunity and we look forward to a productive partnership that contributes to revitalizing the entire Penacook village.”

Weston’s proposal also includes plans to preserve a historic 2,600-square-foot brick building on the site, which was part of the city’s guidelines for proposals. Walsh said it was built more than 100 years ago, when the site held a textile factory.

In the coming months, the city will explore a partnership under which Weston Solutions would refurbish the old warehouse building and lease it back to the city for the Penacook branch library, Walsh said. City officials will also research the cost of doing their own renovation work to move the library before making a decision.

If the project moves forward, Walsh said the city will pay to repave Canal Street, build a park along the Contoocook River and add 50 to 75 public parking spaces on the site.

Concord would use its Tax Increment Finance district in downtown Penacook to fund the new library and park, Walsh said. He said the city’s portion of the project will likely total between $1.25 million and $1.5 million. With the TIF district, increases in tax revenue from the new development would go toward the city’s cost of developing the property.

Walsh said other funding would come from impact fees for transportation and recreation use on the site. If the city moves forward with relocating the library, he said “there may be a donation component to that” as well as potential revenue from selling the existing branch library.

The Penacook branch library’s current building is much smaller than the warehouse it could move to, and the idea drew praise from residents when the city began looking for redevelopment proposals this year. In 2009, city officials had proposed closing Penacook’s branch library to save money. Now, Walsh said, city officials hope they will be able to move the library to the old tannery warehouse.

The city’s vision for a park on part of the 4-acre site is based on meetings this year with Penacook residents. Walsh said potential ideas for the park include old tanning drums to highlight the property’s history, an outdoor amphitheater and a patio outside the library if it moves into the old warehouse.

The former Allied Leather Tannery site has been vacant since 1987, and the city has been working to develop the property since 2002. That work has included failed plans for residential condos, a grocery store and mixed-income housing.

“The tannery site is a pivotal piece of property in Penacook,” Walsh said. “I think one of the things that has held Penacook back for the last 25 years has been this incredible blight in the center of the village.”

A first phase of redevelopment on the old tannery site was completed last year, when Concord Hospital’s Penacook Family Physicians moved into a $1.8 million medical building across the street from the rest of the property, at 4 Crescent St.

“Obviously we’re happy with the clinic, and with an assisted living (center) . . . the clinic is going to be booming,” Blanchard said. “And assisted living people can still . . . get around and do things, so they would be good customers for downtown Penacook, I think.”

Concord officials have also worked to clean up pollution on the site, where they’ve found buried leather and demolition debris. The city plans to use a federal grant to complete site cleanup next year.

Weston Solutions, an environmental engineering, energy and real estate development company with 60 offices around the world, has experience working with contaminated sites.

“The city is excited to be working with a top quality ‘brownfields’ developer that shares the city’s vision for transforming the former Allied Leather site into a high quality, signature development which will contribute to the revitalization of Penacook Village,” City Manager Tom Aspell said in a press release.

Downtown Penacook will also receive a new streetscape design next year, when Concord’s multi-year Route 3 reconstruction project reaches the downtown area. The city council plans to finalize designs for that project in January and begin construction in March or April, with a scheduled completion date of December 2013.

Blanchard said she is pleased with city officials’ commitment to “putting Penacook on the map and working very hard to . . . just get the town revitalized.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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