Editorial: Another step forward for the city

  • The former Department of Employment Security building on South Main Street has been empty for three years. Monitor staff

Sunday, October 01, 2017

In 2005, Dick Brothers, then the commissioner of the Department of Employment Security, took issue with those who deemed the South Main Street building he and his staff worked in one of the ugliest in the city.

They were wrong, Brothers said. “Our building is not merely ‘another eyesore.’ We believe we have the ugliest building in town,” he said.

That building, the one with the faded blue and yellow metal panels on its facade, will be coming down. It will be replaced by a seven-story building with 109 market-rate apartments and street-level commercial space. That’s great news for Concord and its downtown. It’s good news for taxpayers as well and proof that Concord’s investment in the redevelopment of Main Street, controversial as it still is to some, was a wise one.

The consortium of out-of-state developers that is slated to buy the property probably would not have done so unless Main Street was refurbished and the unsightly maze of utility lines in front of the site had not been buried.

The building, which occupies an acre and a quarter of prime real estate, has been off the tax rolls for as long as we can remember.

At times a portion of it served as a residence, including that of Joseph Gilmore, New Hampshire’s governor during the Civil War years 1863-1865. Later it served as the first home of St. Mary’s School for Young Ladies.

Employment Security occupied it until three years ago, when the agency moved to the old state hospital campus.

City government, though reluctant to get into the real estate business, has been smart about it.

Before the city council voted to purchase the DES building, City Manager Tom Aspell predicted that the site would be sold to a developer with an attractive proposal within five years. It took three. Old timers will remember when the city bought the old Sears building on South Main, which sat empty for years, and then demolished it.

As a result, a Portsmouth developer bought the property and erected the six-story office building valued at $13.3 million that houses O Steaks and Seafood and Red River Theatres.

The city sold the Employment Security property for about $750,000 less than it paid for it and must pay $300,000 to demolish it, but taxpayers will more than get their money back.

City staff estimate that the assessed value of the new building will top $12 million, which means an annual property tax bill in excess of $300,000. But that represents only a fraction of the development’s potential value to the city’s tax base and economy.

Tenants for the apartments are expected to come from two groups, millennials now in their 20s and 30s who are not yet ready to buy a home, and baby boomers who are downsizing. Both are groups that tend to have disposable income, money to spend on dining out, entertainment and shopping. That means a boost for local businesses and a probable increase in the assessed value of other downtown properties.

Who knows what else the site’s redevelopment will spark?

Coming years will see the reopening as an entertainment venue of the old Concord Theater a few buildings south of the site, the likely extension of Storrs Street to Horseshoe Pond and, we hope, the purchase of the no-longer used rail line through Concord for use as a biking, walking and cross country skiing trail.

Concord, once dubbed “a city in a coma” is on the move.