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Construction to begin this fall on $32 million redevelopment of Hooksett I-93 rest areas

Construction could begin in October on a $32 million plan to transform the rest areas on Interstate 93 in Hooksett into full-service facilities featuring a 1950s-style diner, a 20,000-square-foot liquor store, 20 fuel pumps and other amenities on each side of the highway.

A vote was delayed yesterday on the plan to lease the Exit 11 site to a private developer for at least 35 years because Department of Transportation officials said that, due to ongoing lease negotiations, the identity of the developer couldn’t be revealed to the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee.

But a name, while redacted, is faintly visible on four architectural renderings distributed yesterday: Granite State Hospitality LLC.

That company is a partnership between the Ashland-based Common Man family of restaurants and another New Hampshire hospitality company, said Alex Ray, Common Man’s founder and owner. He declined to identify the second company, though the LLC has the same address in state records as The Inns & Spa at Mill Falls in Meredith.

The Common Man was named last year as one of three finalists for the Hooksett project. Ray said yesterday he understands the state is simultaneously negotiating with two potential developers, and officials haven’t told him whether he’s been selected for the work.

“We’re still in the throes of going over a long lease. . . . They’re correctly doing their due diligence, because it is potentially a 45-year contract,” Ray said.

The Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee will take up the project again next Tuesday, when Associate Attorney General Richard Head indicated the lease might be finalized. If it gets the green light, the contract would go before the Executive Council on June 19 for final approval.

According to the DOT, construction on the northbound rest area would begin this October and construction on the southbound rest area would begin in January 2014. Both rest areas would be ready in April 2015.

‘Fuller potential’

The existing rest areas at Exit 11 in Hooksett are limited facilities with restrooms, vending machines and a 8,700-square-foot liquor store on either side of the interstate.

After two unsuccessful attempts to attract a developer for the redevelopment project, the state last summer issued a third call for proposals. Three companies made the DOT’s short list: the Common Man, Maryland-based Host International and Chicago-based First Equity Group.

The deal: The state would lease the site to a developer for 35 years, with two five-year extensions possible, and the developer would build and operate new rest areas on either side of the interstate.

Specifics of the project were revealed yesterday in a memo from the DOT to the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, which includes legislators and other state officials.

The plans call for construction of a single building on either side of the highway that would incorporate a 16,000-square-foot “welcome center” and a 20,000-square-foot state liquor store.

Other amenities, according to the DOT’s memo, would include:

∎ A 1950s style diner.

∎ A deli, coffee and breakfast shop.

∎ A convenience store.

∎ A bank.

∎ A “pet walk area” and “generous landscaping on each side.”

∎ Restrooms.

∎ 20 fueling stations.

The rest areas would also offer plenty of parking: roughly 310 spaces on the northbound side and 240 spaces on the southbound side.

The estimated $32 million cost of the project would be paid by the developer, with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission reimbursing it for the $8.4 million cost of the liquor stores.

The developer would also pay the state rent for the site: a minimum of $23.2 million over the 35-year lease and more depending on retail and fuel sales. Based on projected sales, the DOT estimated the rent could top $38.9 million over 35 years.

The project, the DOT said, “transforms an underutilized property to its much fuller potential by providing high-quality facilities, amenities to the traveling public and revenue sharing to the Turnpike System.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

A good example of private business investing and benefits go to the state. Although it is refreshing to read this, my opinion is that Ray is being foolhardy. I I am sure that he did a feasibility study but I wonder if the ROI is realistic enough to invest $32M and pay over $50,000 per month. But analyzing it that would be $25,000 per rest area and a return of $1,000,000 per year to cover the initial investment. Second thought it could be a sweetheart deal........I wonder if the fact that Ray is a prominent progressive played into a Democrat administration choosing his company for the project?

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