Story of the Year No. 7: Development kicks up in Concord

  • An initial rendering of the project, titled Penacook Landing, was developed by Burnell Johnson Architects. Burnell Johnson Architects

  • The downtown Concord landmark formerly known as the Vegas Block no longer exists. It died in a 52,000 fumigation cloud, along with its cockroaches and bedbugs.This week, the new tenants are set to move into its replacement, named Remi’s Block after the lively developer who spent 2½ years and nearly 5 million renovating the 148-158 N. Main St. property.

  • The former Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street in downtown Concord has been converted into condos.  GEOFF FORESTER

  • Scenes from the Red Arrow Diner on Loudon Road in Concord on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • A conceptual plan for what development on Whitney Road could look like, including a grocery store, a distribution center and several smaller buildings. Caitlin Andrews

Monitor staff
Published: 12/26/2017 10:42:44 PM

Build it, and they will come.

That’s not quite the motto city officials had when they set out to revitalize Concord’s Main Street, but it might as well have been. And the fruits of their labor – and $14.2 million – seem to be bearing out.

“I do think it was a big year for development in Concord,” Concord real estate developer Steve Duprey said. “I think it was sort of watershed moment, because the Main Street project was done and received a lot of state and regional coverage for its success.” 

A part of that shift, Duprey said, is because the city has become a lot more business-friendly.

“Twenty-five years ago the unspoken attitude was, ‘You can’t do that,’ ” he said. “Now it’s like, ‘Lets’ find a way we can do that.’ ”

There are plans in motion to bring more development, including apartments, a revived theater and a boutique hotel to downtown. But interest in the city went far beyond “New Hampshire’s Main Street” in 2017, and the decisions made this year are sure to have an impact on the city’s landscape for years to come.

Early in the year, the building formerly known as Vegas Block was reborn as Remi’s Block, bringing 20 luxury apartments and three new storefronts to downtown. It was in large part thanks to the efforts of Remi Hinxhia, who spent 2½ years and nearly $5 million to revive the brick building from its decrepit state.

The building’s balconies – and their “shark cage” appearance – set in motion conversations about what place balconies will have in the downtown’s future. At least two of its three storefronts are now occupied – one tenant is a Christian Michael hair salon; the other is newly opened restaurant Whiskey & Wine.

Luxury condos at the former Sacred Heart Church property on Pleasant Street made their debut in the summer, but not without causing a stir over whether the city should grant developer Jon Chorlian tax relief under the 79-E tax program.

The relief, if granted, would have saved the owners of the 10 condos a collective $350,000, or an average of about $35,000 each, over six years. The application was unusual because Chorlian requested the relief after the project was well underway, and appeared to be immediately successful; its units had buyers in place for months before it opened, according to a March 9 report by Matt Walsh, Concord deputy city manager for redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

The application was withdrawn after it was revealed that Concord’s deputy city manager for finance, Brian LeBrun, planned to buy one of the condos and therefore stood to gain a direct benefit worth tens of thousands of dollars if the application were to succeed.

Loudon Road saw the introduction of Dairy Queen, Aroma Joe’s and a Red Arrow Diner, three projects that piqued residents’ interest.

In Penacook, big things are on the horizon.

The Concord city council this year lifted covenants on Whitney Road land off Interstate 93’s Exit 17 that have been in place for nearly a decade. While a formal proposal from Laurie and David Rauseo needs to come forward, the removal of the covenants opens the door for the developers to bring a 45,000-square-foot grocery store to Whitney Road, as well as 200,000 square feet of industrial development.

Major housing changes are planned for Penacook village, too. The city council supported a proposal from Massachusetts-based Caleb Group that will bring 54 apartments to the former Penacook tannery site. The Caleb Group is aiming to bring multigenerational affordable housing to the site, financed partially by federal tax credits. The 40 one-bedroom apartments were estimated to rent for $780-$936 a month, and the 14 two-bedrooms between $936 and $1,123.

In November, the city council voted to remove language from the Caleb Development Group’s financial contract that characterized the 54-apartment project as a multigenerational housing development with a “senior preference.”

But change, especially in the downtown housing scene, is right around the corner in Concord proper, too.

Perhaps the most significant is the $1 million sale of the former Department of Employment Security building to Dol-Soul Properties, a project that promises to bring 109 market-rate apartments to South Main Street.

The city is clearly invested in the project: The council also voted to change the zoning around the building and to cap the project’s impact fees at $150,000, which is a $25,000 discount from the normal impact fee schedule. In the future, the city will look to create a permit system via a new ordinance and provide up to 82 permits to tenants to use in a number of city parking lots and spaces. That ordinance will have to be created in the coming months.

Less than a mile away, a Manchester-based property management company making its first appearance in the Capital City is taking a different approach.

Elm Grove Companies announced in October the purchase of four brick buildings on Pleasant and South State Streets. They’re promising to bring in 41 apartments, including something Concord has never seen before – “micro-living ‘mini flats,’ ”according to their website.

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