Above downtown streets, Concord committee is trying to make development add up
It all comes back to the numbers.
That refrain set the tone for last night’s meeting of the upper-floor redevelopment committee, which is studying development in the upper stories of downtown Concord and Penacook. Convened this year by Mayor Jim Bouley, the committee asked property owners last night for input on how to encourage projects in underused spaces above the street.
“It’s really the goal to make it easier, whether it be commercial or residential, to revitalize the downtown as best we can,” Bouley said.
Some ideas, such as cutting down on the time it takes to get building permits or re-evaluating the city’s charges for impact fees, would have to happen in city hall. Others, such as encouraging local banks to more actively encourage redevelopment projects downtown, would not be in the hands of Concord officials.
“I find the city can’t always have the ability to do something,” Bouley said. “But we have the ability to stand up on the bully pulpit and yell loudly.”
Not many came to listen last night, however. The city sent invitations to 90 building owners and developers; only a handful showed up to the meeting. Among the attendees were staff members from CATCH Neighborhood Housing.
Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan questioned CATCH President Rosemary Heard about upper-story housing in Concord’s downtown.
“Is there a desire in the community? Do people come to you and say, ‘How do we do this?’ ” Nyhan asked. “Or is this a pipe dream?”
“I think there absolutely is a desire to have more housing options in the downtown,” Heard said. “Trying to make the numbers work is the dilemma.”
Arthur Aznive, whose family owns several Concord buildings, said the cost of buying property and renovating it becomes too expensive to turn a profit.
“Everything basically comes down to money,” Aznive said. “You talk about taking a building and renovating it so it meets code so the fire department’s happy and the city’s happy and the landlord’s gotta be happy, and suddenly it doesn’t work. . . . People are not going to invest where they’re not going to make any money.”
Building codes are guided by state statutes, but building owner Mark Ciborowski suggested the city could restructure its own system of impact fees for building projects. He also zeroed in on the issue of parking, saying the tenants for quality downtown housing would expect to have their own parking spaces.
“The numbers (to build a parking garage) don’t work for a private developer,” Ciborowski said. “That’s where the city does need to step in as a municipality.”
In Penacook, building owner Beth Gabrielli said she wanted to convert vacant commercial space at 316-322 Village St. into five more apartments. The renovations, however, would have been too expensive.
“We would have needed to put a commercial sprinkler system throughout the building,” she said. “That itself was high, costwise. That didn’t include the price of renovations.
“We would put housing in there if financially it was feasible. It just didn’t make sense, the numbers.”
The numbers could make more sense, Heard said, if local banks got more involved. She suggested tapping local financial institutions to help projects with supportive financing and creative solutions, such as buying tax credits dedicated to projects involving historic properties.
“To me, it makes sense to keep it in the downtown, to keep it in the local lenders,” Heard said. “This is just a lending pool. This is our banking community coming together to support something that is really fresh and innovative.”
Bouley said the committee would continue to hear ideas about the upper floors.
“We’re struggling as a committee to figure out what the answer is,” Bouley said.
In coming months, the committee will likely meet twice more and write a report for the city council with specific recommendations to improve development upstairs in Concord and Penacook. Presentation materials and meeting minutes for the upper-floor redevelopment committee are available at concordnh.gov.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)