City council to vote on accepting money to finish Penacook tannery site cleanup
Kevin Frew moved into his Crescent Street home in 1985, just two years before Allied Leather Tannery across the street closed its building and opened a gaping hole in their neighborhood.
The industrial site sat empty until 2004, when the city’s cleanup crews first arrived to demolish old buildings and clean up petroleum and other contamination. In the 10 years since, the heavy machinery and the sound of construction have become normal for the couple.
“Part of everyday life, isn’t it?” Pat Frew said, looking at her husband and shrugging her shoulders.
Even though crews recently found more petroleum leakage than expected on the site, Concord is on schedule to finish work at the former Penacook tannery this summer. In March, the city council will vote on accepting the last chunk of state money to pay for the cleanup, which officials said could attract developers to the long-vacant property.
After a decade of on-and-off jackhammering, the Frews’ lives – and life in the center of Penacook – could change.
“My general impression is it’s going to be worth the 10-year investment to try and get the site turned around, considering the blight that it was on the community and the negative affect it had on the community psychologically, aesthetically, visually, environmentally,” said Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.
“I think it’s worth the time and effort we’re putting into it,” he added.
The council has already accepted up to $275,000 from a reimbursement fund with the state Department of Environmental Services: the oil discharge, disposal and cleanup fund program, known as the ODD Fund.
Next month, the council could accept an additional $475,000 from that same fund to help remove the rest of the petroleum from the soil.
“As we were pulling some of the buried foundations out of the ground, we came across some petroleum in a location we weren’t expecting to find, and it was more than expected,” Walsh said.
Concord does not have to match any of the money from the ODD Fund, Walsh said. With the council’s approval next month, the state could reimburse Concord for up to $750,000 to pay for the petroleum removal. Walsh did not anticipate he would need to earmark more money for the project.
“It’s really just to make sure that I have the ducks lined up in the event that we find more petroleum,” Walsh said.
Since 2001, Walsh said the city has invested $4.7 million in the tannery site, with 62 percent coming from state and federal grants.
Steve Shurtleff, an at-large councilor and a state representative from Penacook, said that money has been well spent.
“It’s going to make (the tannery site) a far more attractive site to any developer to have a clean worksite to work in,” Shurtleff said.
Soon, Shurtleff said, the city will be able to turn its attention to “the matter of connecting a great site with a great developer.”
“With the economy slowly coming back, the developer will see Penacook is a very desirable place to be,” Shurtleff said.
Concord Hospital’s Penacook Family Physicians opened in a new building on a corner of the tannery site in 2011, but attempts to find anyone to build on the remaining 2½ acres have been unsuccessful. Most recently, Weston Solutions backed out of a plan to build an assisted living facility at that address.
With cleanup complete, Walsh said he can return to interested developers with a property with “a clean bill of health.”
“The city needed to complete the cleanup so the developer would know exactly what they’re getting,” Walsh said.
Ward 1 Councilor Brent Todd, who represents Penacook village, also said he was hopeful a developer would show interest in the rehabbed tannery site. Combined with the ongoing construction to Route 3 through the village, Todd said he hopes to see a “resurgence of a sort of downtown core area, where folks could meet each other, share in shopping experiences, see each other face to face.”
“With the proper development of the tannery, that could be that key core location of downtown Penacook,” Todd said.
The city’s vision for the site is a mixed-use space with both retail space and market-rate apartments, as well as a riverfront park.
George Blatsis, who owns the restaurant Chief’s Place next to the tannery site, said he wants to see a market or grocery store open on the neighboring plot. So does Pat Frew, 54.
But inside the Frews’ brown-and-white house, Kevin Frew, 57, imitated the sound of the jackhammers outside his door. His wishlist is a simple one.
“I hope it’s quiet,” he said of a new development.
Whatever it is, it won’t be what the neighbors have gotten used to in a decade of demolition and chemical cleanup.
“That’s what it’s all about, change,” Blatsis said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)
Correction:An earlier version of this story misstated the year a Boscawen woman moved into her home on Crescent Street. Her husband, Kevin Frew, moved into the home in 1985 with his first wife Freida. Pat Frew moved into the home in 2010, when she and Kevin Frew were married.