Former homeless shelter at church on North Main to become market-rate housing

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 07-10-2023 7:18 PM

Local developers have submitted plans to the city to convert an historic church in downtown Concord into more than 30 units of market-rate apartments.

The First Congregational Church at 177 North Main Street is currently owned by the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness and was used as a cold-weather homeless shelter until April. It was purchased by the nonprofit in 2020 for $800,000, primarily to offer an expanded winter shelter to allow for social distancing during COVID-19 and eventually to provide more permanent housing to the city’s homeless, said the coalition’s executive director, Karen Jantzen.

As COVID restrictions lifted and conversion of the property proved costly, the coalition’s plans for the space changed, leading to the decision to sell.

“We never shut down our resource center over here at 238 North Main Street, and we will be operating out of there fully and serving the same number of people in our shelter,” Jantzen said. “The property was originally purchased because the thought was to convert it into affordable, low-income housing, but we could not make the numbers work to renovate the building.”

Applicants Jonathan Chorlian and Ben Kelley, real estate developers who have bought and converted several properties in Concord, have entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement to acquire the church for $770,000 and plan to spend more than $5 million to renovate it, according to city documents.

Though the exterior of the 26,000-square-foot church will remain largely unchanged from its original construction in 1937, site plans indicate the interior will be renovated to accommodate 33 market-rate units consisting of one- and two-bedroom pet-friendly units starting at $1,400 a month, Chorlian said. Parking will be available for residents on adjacent properties to be acquired as part of the project, and new green space and landscaping will be added, including 20 new street trees.

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The city of Concord has been struggling to meet housing demands for the last several years. Though there are several housing developments underway across the city, the housing vacancy rate remains at 0.4%, which is well below state and national averages.

“If there is a solution, it’s not to build a 60,000-square-foot project in the geographic middle of the state,” Chorlian said. “Rather, the solution lies in the incremental addition of housing supply over many, many projects, using every ounce of creativity and persistence we can all muster. While this projectonly’ adds 30 units, in many ways it is a great example of that approach and that path of repurposing an existing building, which was built without any contemplation of being anything other than a church.”

Jantzen said she hopes the market-rate housing might free up more low-income housing for those wishing to find an affordable residency in the city.

The First Congregational Church was the original religious organization in Concord established in 1730 as a log house and was replaced by the Old North Church in 1751, which stood on the site of the Walker School until it burned down at an unknown date. The third church, a frame building, was built in 1842 and burned down in 1873 when it was replaced by a brick building that later burned down in 1935. The current church was built in 1937 and expanded in 1967, according to city documents.

Both Chorlian and Kelley have been involved in many redevelopment projects in Concord, including demolishing the St. Peters Church and building new condominiums, the preservation and redevelopment of Sacred Heart Church, the redevelopment of the former Concord OB/GYN building on North Main Street and the redevelopment and sale of a commercial building at 6 Loudon Road.

“Unlike me, Ben has also done a substantial amount of development and redevelopment work throughout New Hampshire,” Chorlian said. “Suffice to say that we both love Concord and are proud to be involved with another project, which we believe is a great project for Concord on many levels.”

This is the first project the pair have worked on together.

With a total budget of about $6 million, Chorlian and Kelley are asking the city for tax exemptions based on the historic value of the church and the added housing it will bring to downtown Concord. In August, councilors will have to determine if the application meets the requirements for tax relief and satisfies the public benefit criteria, which includes enhancing the economic vitality of downtown, improving a structure that is culturally important and promoting preservation and the reuse of a historic building, as well as increasing housing in urban areas.

If councilors determine the project meets the criteria, which Deputy City Manager of Development Matt Walsh suggests they do, Chorlian and Kelley will save around $471,000 in taxes over the next seven years, according to city documents.

Pending final approval from the City Council, Planning Board and the Zoning Board, construction is slated to begin in September and should take between 10 and 12 months to complete.

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