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Developers share details of proposals for Concord Employment Security site

State of New Hampshire Department of Employment Security. (Monitor staff)

State of New Hampshire Department of Employment Security. (Monitor staff)

The city council is considering two choices for redevelopment of the New Hampshire Employment Security headquarters on South Main Street: a plan that includes a hotel, restaurant and retail space by a Vermont-based company, or market-rate apartments or other mixed-use space by local developer Steve Duprey.

John Illick, owner of ReArch Co. in South Burlington, Vt., said he submitted a proposal to the city for a “very high-quality, mixed-use” development that would span the entire block of Main Street between Fayette and Thompson streets.

Duprey, who disclosed his plans this spring, proposed market-rate housing. He also hoped to use the whole block and has said he submitted a “number of options.”

Both developers offered to build a new public library, though they have not learned whether the city is willing to move forward with that aspect of the project.

The city has not negotiated an agreement with any developer, said Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

Walsh said it could be several months before he can speak publicly about the process because negotiations are confidential. If the city does reach a development agreement, it would go before the council for a public hearing and vote.

Illick described his proposal as “really a sensational building” that could also include housing and meeting or conference space.

“It would be a very prominent and proud addition to Main Street,” he said.

He would hope to purchase the other properties on the block: the Concord Feminist Health Center; the Fraternal Order of the Eagles Aerie #613; and potentially a three-unit apartment building at the corner of South State and Thorndike streets.

He was especially interested in a Concord project when he heard about the city’s upcoming redesign of Main Street.

“Concord is clearly putting its money where its mouth is,” Illick said. “They’re investing in themselves, and that’s very attractive to a developer.”

Illick said he would like to build a new public library on the site, but he has heard doubts about the city’s ability to afford it.

Duprey has opened two new buildings on South Main Street in the past few years, directly across from the employment security department’s site. The Smile Building opened on the former Sanel Block in 2011, and the Love Building opened this summer on the former site of the New Hampshire Bindery.

During a tour of his newest building while it was under construction this spring, Duprey announced that he had submitted a proposal for the employment security site that would include between 30 and 50 housing units.

“We’ve got some great plans for it if we’re chosen to do it,” he told a tour group at the time.

Duprey said last week that he hopes the redevelopment project does not lose momentum, even if he is not the chosen developer. He did not return messages left yesterday afternoon.

ReArch Co. has not worked in Concord in the past. It has developed a number of projects in Vermont, and it worked in a public-private partnership with the city of Claremont to rehabilitate three abandoned textile mill buildings. A Common Man Restaurant, Common Man Inn and Red River Computer Co. moved into the renovated space in 2009. Another building, where upscale condominiums were planned, is still vacant.

Claremont City Manager Guy Santagate said he had a positive experience working with Illick, whose project attracted new visitors and spurred other redevelopment. He said the project was a “booming success,” and his opinion of it is not damaged by an ongoing legal battle over the assessed value of the rehabilitated buildings.

“I’d hire him again,” Santagate said. “Now, we’ve got some differences on taxes, but that happens. The differences on taxes are separate from the project and will work its way through the system.”

Santagate attributed the unopened condominiums to timing; they were set to open in 2008, as the economic recession began.

ReArch Co. has also completed a number of commercial, residential and institutional development projects in Vermont, according to its website.

The state employment security department will relocate its headquarters to the New Hampshire Hospital campus next year and sell its property at 32-34 S. Main St. The city and state have been working together to find a developer to purchase the property from the state, fast-tracking the city’s right to purchase the property and later sell it to a developer.

In January, the city asked developers for proposals that could include market-rate housing and a mixture of retail, restaurant or office space. Officials also suggested that the site could house a 40,000-square-foot public library – if developers were interested in building one. When the city laid out the project early this year, officials planned to enter an agreement with a developer in April, with hopes of the state approving a purchase-and-sale agreement for the land in October and construction beginning in the spring of 2014. That timeline has shifted several times.

Now, it is unclear when the property will be sold.

Illick said yesterday that he has been working closely with the city, while Duprey said last week that he is still waiting to hear the city’s decision.

City councilors have told the Monitor that they are reviewing just two development proposals.

But, Walsh said, the process will take time. The council has been discussing the development proposals in nonpublic sessions.

“The process takes as long as the process takes,” Walsh said.

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

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