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Official: Concord has a track record as a ‘developer of last resort’

  • The New Hampshire Employment Security building. (Monitor staff)

    The New Hampshire Employment Security building. (Monitor staff)

  • Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013 <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • The New Hampshire Employment Security building. (Monitor staff)
  • Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013 <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

If the city council decides to buy the New Hampshire Employment Security site on South Main Street, it won’t be the first time Concord writes a big check to protect future development.

It’s just not usually the first choice.

“The city might be a developer of last resort,” said Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development.

In May, the council will hear public testimony on what to do with the soon-to-be vacant building. In June, it will vote on several questions: whether to buy the state-owned property for $1.9 million, whether to include it in a special tax district that would pay for that purchase and whether to knock it down if Concord does buy the site.

When the option to hold the deed for this kind of property comes up, Baia said the city is “selective.”

“It’s not something that we do with frequency,” he said.

He noted the city’s record with buying prominent lots that need to be redeveloped, but that come with challenges.

“In dire straits, it’s not unheard of. . . . There’s a legacy there already,” Baia said.

In 2001, the city began buying pieces of Penacook’s blighted Allied Leather tannery property. Then in 2004, it started cleaning up the hazardous materials that contaminated the soil. Concord has since invested at least $4.7 million in the site, with 62 percent coming from state and federal grants.

“There was a property that was not feasible for the private sector to develop,” Baia said.

In 2011, about a third of the property became a medical office for Penacook Family Physicians. The rest was set to become an assisted living facility, but that plan fell through in September.

The city hasn’t yet found another developer to move onto that land after the cleanup is finished this summer.

Along with the tannery site, some councilors remembered the city’s involvement with what is now the Capital Commons complex in downtown Concord. Once a 65,000-square-foot Sears, the department store moved out in 1991. Several other uses had failed in the decade since, so the city bought that property in 2002 and knocked it down.

In 2003, a Portsmouth developer bought the property and built a six-story, 102,000-square-foot building that now houses Red River Theatres and O’s Steak & Seafood.

In that case, Ward 4 Councilor Byron Champlin said the city “identified a developer who had a concept and the capability of building a major new revenue generator.”

That didn’t come without a cost. Concord’s investment in the development totaled $16.4 million, according to city records. The majority of that money came from bonds and cash in the city’s various reserve funds, and it went in part to the neighboring 516-space parking garage.

Along with Champlin, at-large Councilor Mark Coen will be on a newly-appointed Community Development Advisory Committee that will meet later this month. He remembered some of the frustration when the Capital Commons building opened in 2007, because its promised restaurant was delayed and the expensive parking garage was slow to fill up.

“Short term, there was a lot of criticism because of the finances . . . but it’s paying out,” Coen said.

Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag, also a member of that advisory committee, said he would hope to see an eventual return on the city’s investment in the employment security building.

“The numbers have to make sense at the end of the day,” Herschlag said. “Otherwise we have all this great development, all this great tax base expansion, but we’ve had nothing to catch up with the maintenance needs of the city.”

Baia also referenced developments such as the former Concord Lumber site that is now the Horseshoe Pond development and the once-decrepit Sanel Block, now the Smile building. In those cases, the city provided incentives for developers who were ready to move on those properties, rather ever than buying the property outright.

“This particular city has a history of being prudent when it comes to investing, when it comes to properties,” Baia said. The city “does it with a big picture in mind.”

The Concord City Council will meet again May 12 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Veterans to gather at New England College

The veterans’ group at New England College will host an information night Sunday with local service providers and support groups at the school’s Concord campus.

Karen Barilani is the president of Students Engaged with Respect to Veterans’ Education at the Henniker-based college.

She is also a veteran of the Marines, who deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in the early 2000s. So she knows finding support for a range of questions after a deployment can be overwhelming.

“There’s the main issue of veterans dealing with PTSD, adjustment problems. . . . Some of them come out, and they need financial assistance finding an apartment or finding a job,” she said.

Getting in touch with these veterans’ groups “gives you somebody to talk to,” Barilani said.

Among the organizations that will have representatives on-site Sunday are the Manchester VA Medical Center, the White River Junction VA Medical Center, the Wounded Warriors Project and equine therapy center Bits Etc.

The event is open to all veterans, not just New England College students. It will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Concord campus, located at 62 N. Main St.

“We’re trying to give them one night to find out what’s out there for them,” Barilani said.

To join the event as a service provider or to learn more, contact Barilani at KBarilani11@nec.edu.

More parking on Pillsbury Street

The city’s planning board has given developer Steve Duprey the go-ahead to knock down a South End house and replace it with a parking lot.

Duprey purchased the home at 46 Pillsbury St. in 2010, and now he will tear it down to add 32 parking spaces for nearby offices at 2 Pillsbury St. The planning board approved his plan when it met last week.

“About a year ago, we started hearing from neighbors that there were too many days when the building parking lots were all full and parking was down in front of the residential neighborhood,” Duprey said.

Duprey has agreed to preserve a large maple tree on the lot and to build a fence, which he said was a gesture of cooperation with residents in the area. One neighbor objected to the parking lot before the zoning board last year, but Duprey said no one spoke against the plan at last week’s meeting.

Construction should begin this spring.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Paying $1.9 million for the building, and then knocking it down, sounds like a smart buy to me.

It seems to me that any city is not a good developer, much less the City of Concord. The Main Street debacle is just one example of why they should just have meetings and talk and take little action.

I agree, the city should not be in the real estate business.

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