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Assisted living facility plan falls through for Penacook tannery site

This file photo from 2008 shows the Pencook tannery prior to its demolition that year. The latest effort to redevelop the Penacook tannery property failed because the developer couldn't make the assisted living facility at the heart of the project work. 

(Ken Williams / Monitor file)

This file photo from 2008 shows the Pencook tannery prior to its demolition that year. The latest effort to redevelop the Penacook tannery property failed because the developer couldn't make the assisted living facility at the heart of the project work. (Ken Williams / Monitor file)

An assisted living facility will not be built on the former tannery site in Penacook.

Weston Solutions withdrew its redevelopment plans for the long-vacant property because it was unable to find an assisted living provider to run the facility, city officials announced yesterday. That means plans for a riverfront park, public parking lot and potential Penacook branch library on the former Allied Leather Tannery site are also on hold.

The company tried to work with about a dozen assisted living providers, the city said in a press release. But it could not find a partner because it was a relatively small development, and it would be difficult to make the facility profitable.

The city council accepted Weston’s withdrawal from the project in a nonpublic meeting Monday night, said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects. He said the city hopes to find a new developer to build both housing and commercial space on the property, but officials aren’t in any rush.

Cleanup of buried leather and demolition debris will be complete next summer. Walsh said that milestone will make it easier to find developers for the property, where several redevelopment proposals have failed in the past decade.

“So until that’s completed and the developer can actually see it, we think getting a developer on board might be a little challenging,” Wash said.

By next year, improvements to Village Street in downtown Penacook will be nearly complete as part of the city’s multiyear Route 3 reconstruction project. Walsh said the new streetscape, combined with the environmental cleanup and an improving real estate market, could attract a viable redevelopment project.

“Hopefully that will be the trifecta that will finally make the site ready for a private developer to take it on,” he said.

The city announced in December the plan for an assisted living facility, which Weston Solutions, a development, engineering and energy company with offices in Concord, planned to build. The city also began to consider the potential for a new Penacook branch library as part of that project.

“We are extremely disappointed that despite the market for an assisted living facility in Penacook, a suitable operator could not be engaged,” Bruce Campbell of the company’s Concord office said in the press release. “We were looking forward to working alongside the city on this project and were hoping this initiative would bring sustainable momentum to Penacook’s revitalization.”

Walsh said a park along Contoocook River – and maybe a library – will still be included in future development.

The library is “really going to depend on who the developer is for the property, what their intended use of the property is and whether or not a library would complement that,” he said, as well as the cost of moving the library.

The former tannery site has been vacant since 1987, and the city began cleanup and redevelopment efforts in 2002. Since then, plans have fallen through for condominiums, a grocery store and mixed-income housing. A portion of the site has been successfully redeveloped; Concord Hospital’s Penacook Family Physicians moved into a new Crescent Street building in 2011.

City Councilor Liz Blanchard, who represents Penacook, said it’s been difficult to watch many development plans fall through, but she remains “ever hopeful” about the site.

“So it’s not going to happen overnight, obviously,” she said. “It’s been this long happening, and we do have the clinic and that’s a plus. So that’s a beginning.”

Steve Shurtleff, an at-large city councilor and state representative who lives in Penacook, said the latest roadblock in development for the tannery site is an opportunity to find the best plan for the property.

“And although I am somewhat disappointed that they’ve withdrawn, I think in some respects it may be an opportunity for the city to find a developer that may bring forth something that would mesh even more in a better way with the village . . . that many of us see for the future of Penacook,” he said.

Shurtleff said a grocery store “would always be welcome,” but so would retail and housing.

Walsh said the city has tried to work with grocery store developers in the past, but it’s a difficult proposal for the small tannery site, at 27-35 Canal St.

“It’s been extremely challenging because the property is somewhat small and . . . we’re only going to have about 2½ acres (to develop) at the end of the day,” he said. “That would only support about 25,000 square feet of retail uses, and a modern grocery store today is anywhere between 40,000 and 70,000 square feet, plus. We’ve talked to parties in the past, and they haven’t been interested in the site because . . . it’s small, and it has a relatively low traffic count for what that type of retail establishment is looking for.”

Shurtleff said Penacook Village Association board members will meet this weekend to discuss what they would like to see developed at the tannery site. They will then share that information with city officials.

“With Weston walking away, it’s not the end of the book,” Shurtleff said. “It’s just the beginning of the next chapter.”

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

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