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Assisted living development delayed at Penacook tannery site

The latest plans to redevelop the former tannery site in Penacook have been delayed, as the developer seeks a partner to operate the proposed assisted living facility.

The Concord City Council selected Weston Solutions seven months ago to build a 45,000-square-foot assisted living center and about 3,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space on the tannery property. In December, the council set a June deadline to enter a purchase-and-sales agreement with the developer.

But Weston’s partner for the assisted living facility backed out of its plan, said Matt Walsh, the city’s assistant for special projects. The city has given the development company until August to find another partner.

“So they’ve been working with some other assisted living providers, but it’s been more challenging than, I think, anybody anticipated for them to actually get somebody to go, to commit to the project with them,” Walsh said.

By August, the city council’s action will depend on the developer’s progress.

“There’s a possibility that we could give them an additional extension if things look promising, or Weston may withdraw from the project given how their efforts are going,” Walsh said.

Plans included a park along the Contoocook River and the possibility of a new Penacook branch library on the former Allied Leather Tannery site. Walsh said those projects have also been put on hold, as they’re dependent on private development on the property.

City Councilor Liz Blanchard, who represents Penacook, said she was upset to hear the project may fall through. She’s hoping it will still work out.

“It’s all just kind of in limbo, and I’ve got my fingers crossed,” Blanchard said.

If Weston Solutions doesn’t proceed, it won’t be the first time a planned development for the old tannery property has failed.

The city owns the land and Concord officials have worked to sell and redevelop the site for the past decade. Plans have fallen through for condominiums, a grocery store and mixed-income housing.

A first phase of development was completed in 2011, when Concord Hospital’s Penacook Family Physicians moved into a new medical building at 4 Crescent St. The rest of the property, which is across the street at 27-35 Canal St., has been vacant since 1987.

“It’s never really been a challenge to attract interest to the site, it’s just been getting parties to move forward just beyond interest,” Walsh said.

Residents are “anxious to see that site developed,” said at-large city Councilor Steve Shurtleff, who lives in Penacook.

“But by the same token, if it shouldn’t work out with Weston . . . it’s a very marketable site,” Shurtleff said. “But hopefully this will all work out to everybody’s advantage.”

A representative for Weston Solutions did not return a message yesterday afternoon.

Walsh said coming changes to Penacook – the last round of cleanup on the polluted tannery property, the reconstruction of Route 3 through Penacook village and the installation of underground utilities – could attract other developers to the site if Weston Solutions backs out.

“If Weston doesn’t shake out,” he said, “if they end up not moving forward with the project, will that be disappointing? On one level it will be. On the other hand, there are things that are coming around the corner up there that will make things easier for whoever the next developer will be.”

Earlier this year, the city sought a design team for a new library, but Walsh said that portion of the project can’t move forward without the assisted living facility. The library and riverfront park would be funded with a tax increment finance district, which uses tax revenue added through development to pay for improvement to the surrounding area.

“So until Weston’s project becomes more certain – or another project (becomes) more certain, the city won’t be moving forward on any of that work because there’s no guarantee that we actually have the revenue to pay for any of those improvements,” Walsh said.

Blanchard said she and other residents were especially looking forward to a new library.

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

Legacy Comments1

While it is frustrating to see the Tannery site remain undeveloped, the city should not make the same mistakes it made when rushing to find a developer for the old Sears site. We can bemoan the fact that the Tannery collapsed and we can complain that time and time again development options have been derailed. The development of an assisted living facility on the Tannery site is probably not the best location for this type of facility in Penacook. It would be much more conducive to the economic revitalization of Penacook to have a mix of retail, commercial and residential on this site. And it would be great to see the development of an arts community here in Penacook. As pointed out at the most recent meeting with city staff, because of planned improvements to the Village and the final cleanup of the Tannery site, Penacook may be in its best position to actually determine how the site is developed. While it is tempting to jump on the next project that shows interest in developing the site, the prudent course is to determine what project offers the best long term outcomes for the Village. Answer that question and then seek a developer and tenants to occupy the Tannery site - Allan Herschlag

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