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Company C backs out of plan to move into Employment Security site

The New Hampshire Employment Security building. (Monitor staff)

The New Hampshire Employment Security building. (Monitor staff)

The owners of Company C, a home decor design studio, have walked away from a plan to move their headquarters into the state Employment Security headquarters on South Main Street.

But developer Steve Duprey, who had been spearheading the proposal to redevelop that block, hasn’t given up yet.

Assistant for Special Projects Matt Walsh said last night the city will continue to work with Duprey and others who have expressed interest in redeveloping the downtown building.

“Nobody’s out, and nobody’s in,” Walsh said.

Duprey said last night he has offered to continue searching for a partner to replace Company C in his plan – a partner that could qualify for federal new market tax credits to pay for the project.

“We appreciate having had a month to try to put this together, and we’re sorry that Company C can’t move downtown, but we understand their thinking and their decision making,” Duprey said. “In our report to the city, we offered either to withdraw our proposal and terminate our efforts, or alternatively to continue to work on this for a few months to see if we can find a substitute user, although I think that will be a very difficult challenge.”

Company C President Walter Chapin said his company has decided to remain in its current location on Old Turnpike Road.

“We have been here for 11 years and it works,” he wrote in an email statement. “We even have customers come in and say, ‘We hope you are not moving.’ ”

Chapin said his company seriously considered opening a South Main Street location in addition to its current headquarters.

“Company C has concluded we cannot absorb the cost of relocating to downtown in addition to the costs of remaining in our current space,” he said. “Two locations would leave us with more office space than we anticipate needing.”

If Company C had moved downtown, its flagship store and offices would have been flanked by high-end apartments, other commercial space and potentially a new city library.

City Manager Tom Aspell said he informed the city council yesterday of Company C’s decision.

The project will not go out to bid again, Aspell said. He and Walsh will now approach others who have asked about the project in the year since the city first issued a formal request for proposals.

But those potential developers have not yet elaborated on what their plans for the site would look like, “other than saying they have an interest,” Aspell said.

Now, the city wants details.

“Those folks need to do more due diligence,” Walsh said.

The city and state have been working together to sell and redevelop the property, and the chosen developer would enter a public-private partnership to repurpose the outdated building. In addition to Duprey’s plan, the city had also considered a proposal from a Vermont developer, who told the Monitor he would build a hotel, restaurant and retail space on that site.

“We’re simply trying to facilitate a deal that will be mutually beneficial for the state of New Hampshire, the city and the private developer,” Walsh said.

The state will vacate that building later this year. Aspell said he hopes the city has a more firm plan in place by the summer – “sooner rather than later,” he said.

Duprey has redeveloped two other properties on South Main Street – the Smile building opened in 2011 and the Love building opened this summer on the former site of the New Hampshire Bindery.

As he, too, starts over on the Employment Security site, Duprey said he would continue to support the city’s project for that area of downtown.

“We look forward to hearing from the city, and regardless of whether we are involved, we hope the city will be successful in getting this site redeveloped promptly,” Duprey said.

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

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