Concord to buy New Hampshire Employement Security site downtown
Concord will buy the New Hampshire Employment Security site on South Main Street and mothball it until the city can find a developer for the property.
The city council voted last night to pay $1.9 million for the 0.74-acre property and then an additional $90,000 to weatherize it for as many as five years.
Employment Security has now moved to the state office campus at 45 S. Fruit St. in Concord, leaving the building at 32-34 S. Main St. vacant. The city had hoped to find a developer to build a mixed-use complex on that property by the time the state moved out, but Concord formally rejected two proposals submitted for the job last year. Buying the property will allow Concord to control what sort of redevelopment happens there, said Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.
“There are definitely economic development benefits to the community if the property was acquired and held,” Walsh said.
But Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag spoke against the purchase in part because the money to buy the state building will come from the Sears Block Tax Increment Finance district, which also includes the Capital Commons building and the Smile building on South Main Street. In a TIF district, tax revenue from developments inside its boundaries will be reinvested in new projects in that area.
“I think we’ve done everything we need to do to spur development in that district. . . . I think we should let the free market work its magic,” Herschlag said.
Herschlag was the only councilor to oppose any of last night’s decisions on the Employment Security building. Three separate votes – one to use the TIF district money, one to buy the building and one to weatherize it – came to 13-1; Ward 8 Councilor Gail Matson was absent. But Ward 4 Councilor Byron Champlin did echo Herschlag’s comments.
“I will vote in favor of this (purchase),” Champlin said. “I do have to say I’m a little concerned about the degree the city is involved in development projects.”
In an initial report, city staff wrote weatherizing the building to leave it standing would cost about $190,000. City Manager Tom Aspell slashed $100,000 from that number last night, because the city won’t board up the doors and windows of the building as originally planned. The council also considered demolishing the building, which would have cost about $325,000.
“My preference would be to take the building down because I don’t want to see a blighted building in downtown,” at-large Councilor Fred Keach said.
Leaving the building standing, however, allows a developer to choose between repurposing the existing building or tearing it down for something new, Aspell said. City staff has planned to find that developer in less than five years.
“I would think five years would be plenty of time to develop this site, but you can never tell,” Aspell said.
Once the city officially owns the building, Walsh said Concord can reach out directly to potential developers.
“We’ve been fielding inquiries from interested developers,” he said.
Concord is scheduled to close on the sale Sept. 19.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)