Brady Sullivan to buy DOT buildings near downtown, beating out city

  • The front fence of the former Department of Transportation facility on Stickney Avenue, which will be sold to Brady Sullivan.

  • The front of the former Department of Transportation facility on Stickney Avenue in Concordon Monday, August 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The front of the former Department of Transportation facility on Stickney Avenue in Concord on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The front of the former Department of Transportation facility on Stickney Avenue in Concordon Monday, August 23, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The front of the former Department of Transportation facility on Stickney Avenue in Concord on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/28/2021 9:14:38 PM

The decaying Department of Transportation complex sandwiched between Loudon Road and the Concord Coach bus terminal has sat vacant for years, greeting highway drivers with glimpses of low-lying buildings with broken windows, peeling paint and creeping vines.

To the city of Concord, buying the 5.6-acre eyesore meant a chance to redevelop and beautify a valuable downtown location visible from Interstate 93.

Four decades ago, the city and the Downtown Concord Revitalization Corporation published a pamphlet for state legislators that called the Stickney Avenue site “the most prominent single piece of real estate in the city” and “a gateway to downtown.”

“We request that the City be allowed to negotiate the sale of part or all of the Stickney Avenue site to private developers,” the 1981 pamphlet says.

Forty years later, Concord lost control of the property and what will eventually be built there after the state cut off negotiations with city officials and sold the property to Manchester-based developer Brady Sullivan instead.

The sale agreement, set to close at the end of September, surprised city officials who had been in talks to buy the land at 11 Stickney Avenue. By law, municipalities get a first shot at buying unused state property.

Conditions of the sale include historic covenants on the H-shaped Highway Garage, which is eligible for placement on the National Registry of Historic Places, and requirements that Brady Sullivan deal with environmental damage from asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous materials. The five buildings were built between 1926 and 1950, and in use from 1930 until 2006.

Pursuing the property

Under state law, municipalities like Concord have the “right of first refusal” if the state wants to offload real estate bought with state or federal highway funds. If the state wants to dispose of unneeded property, “the governor and council shall first offer it to the government of the town, city or county in which the property is located,” state law says. If the city refuses, the governor and executive council can sell the property to other buyers.

In June 2020, the property was listed for $709,500 and Concord was given its first chance to buy it. A February 2019 report on hazardous materials had shown significant environmental problems on the site.

City Manager Tom Aspell wrote in a July 14 letter to the Department of Transportation that the city would wait for a private offer first. “The City requests that NHDOT advise it of the pending offer so that the City can review the matter and determine if it wishes to take any action to exercise its right under the aforementioned statute,” Aspell said.

In October 2020, the agency informed the city that the bid process had concluded with one offer from Brady Sullivan for $1 million. That’s when Concord decided to throw its hat in the ring, hoping to exert more control over the planning of the site that serves as a visual gateway to downtown.

City councilors approved a resolution in December allowing Aspell to enter into negotiations for a purchase and sale agreement to match Brady Sullivan’s offer. A report from the city manager’s office compared the Stickney Avenue site to the New Hampshire Employment Security Building on South Main Street, which the city bought for $1.575 million in 2014 and sold this year to the John J. Flatley Company for $350,000.

The city sent a first draft of a purchase and sale agreement, modeled on the 2014 agreement with the Department of Employment Security, to the NHDOT on Feb. 15.

After months of negotiations, the city sent a revised draft on May 7 that mentioned it would need to hold three City Council meetings to approve financing the $1 million purchase via an amendment of the North End Opportunity Corridor Tax Increment Finance District.

The May 7 draft also proposed a six-month period of due diligence, putting closing at Jan. 31, 2022, at the latest. That process involved enrolling the site in the Department of Environmental Services Brownfields Program, which would protect the city from liability for the environmental clean-up, and discontinuing a NHDOT right-of-way, which Director of Redevelopment Matt Walsh said required surveying and subdividing the property.

That longer timeline and the series of meetings required for the city’s financing made Concord’s offer less appealing, NHDOT Assistant Commissioner and Chief Engineer William Cass said.

“There were more conditions on the funding, subject to City Council approval somewhere down the line after they had done their due diligence,” Cass said. “It became a longer time frame, with some risk at the end of that time frame that City Council could opt out.”

Negotiation breakdown

The Department of Transportation informed the city in a May 21 letter that they were planning to end negotiations. Walsh said a June 3 meeting to discuss the letter was canceled and rescheduled for June 8.

Aspell and Walsh said they were surprised that the NHDOT had pulled out of negotiations with the city.

“We believe we met the criteria for a legitimate offer in a reasonable time frame, and the city should’ve been able to enter in a purchase and sale agreement,” Aspell said.

On June 7, NHDOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan and Brady Sullivan Properties, LLC signed a purchase and sale agreement. In a letter to the governor and Executive Council requesting approval, Sheehan wrote that the department had tried to offer the property to Concord initially.

“However, after several months of negotiation it has become apparent that the City was unable to match the favorable terms of the Grantee’s offer in terms of time and conditions,” Sheehan said in the letter.

City officials met with NHDOT officials on June 8, still hoping to come to an agreement. At that meeting, the city didn’t know an agreement with Brady Sullivan had already been signed, Walsh said.

“We said, ‘We’ll go forward, we’ll get the thing done by Halloween, and if there’s anything else bothering you, we’ll take it out,’ ” Walsh said. “They said, ‘Thanks, we’ll take that under advisement,’ and then they subsequently informed us they had signed the purchase and sale agreement the day before with Brady Sullivan.”

Walsh said he offered to drop some of Concord’s conditions and address the Brownfields Program and the right-of-way later, moving up the date of the closing to Oct. 31. The current deal with Brady Sullivan closes at the end of September.

“They did say that they had an alternative proposal of things at that point, we had to think about it and we went back and conferred with the Attorney General, but it was determined that it was too little, too late,” Cass said. On June 10, the NHDOT told the city the property had been sold to Brady Sullivan, Walsh said.

Aspell and Walsh said the difference between the two offers was insignificant, and they believe that under the state law, their proposal should have been approved.

“In our minds, there was very little difference in time,” Aspell said. “It was inconsequential in terms of closing. We don’t see a reason not to work with the local community.”

Cass said his agency did not share the city’s view that the two offers were basically equal. “We viewed it as, ‘It wasn’t an equitable proposal because of the conditions,’ ” he said. “They had the right to match the offer that we had.”

Stickney Ave.’s future

For years, the city has viewed the area as key to the city’s economic future. For now, it’s unclear how Brady Sullivan will choose to use the land.

Aspell said the city would have sought out a developer with a vision for the property that would maximize tax value and bring vitality to downtown Concord.

“We wanted to acquire the property so we could master plan the whole site, like the Horseshoe Pond area,” Aspell said. “When you take a pivotal piece out of that, really adjacent to the exit, it becomes more difficult to be able to effectuate a well-planned site that has all the elements that you wanted.”

In 2020, Brady Sullivan indicated that it would redevelop the property for “residential purposes,” according to a city manager’s report.

Arthur Sullivan said that it was premature for his company to decide what to do with the land before the sale was complete. “We like to acquire it, and then we figure it out,” Sullivan said. “It’ll be determined once we own the property.”

He said his company is looking forward to doing more business in Concord.

“We’re thrilled to be in Concord at that particular parcel,” Sullivan said.

The real estate developer owns commercial property in three states, and purchased the 181-acre Lincoln Financial property in Concord this spring. Brady Sullivan also owns apartment complex Cranmore Ridge, where tenants were given an ultimatum earlier this year: Pay a higher rent for a renovated apartment or move out.

In addition to being a big player in development, the company is a major political donor. In 2019, LLCs linked to Brady Sullivan and its owners donated $21,000 to Governor Chris Sununu.

The sale closing with Brady Sullivan next month marks a turning point for the Stickney Avenue site, where the decrepit buildings have been mostly unused for the past 15 years.

“The longer the vacant the property sits there, the more problematic that property becomes,” Cass said. Moving forward on development sooner lessens the risk of fires and break-ins. “I think that’s in both ours and the city’s interest,” he said.

Aspell agrees that it’s past time to deal with the site – but questioned the sudden rush.

“It’s been a derelict piece of property for decades,” he said. “Most of the building is in really bad, bad condition. A month here or there shouldn’t make any difference.”

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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