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Three city projects to get boost in 2004


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Three city projects to get boost in 2004

Tannery, Sears block, Blue Cross on list


Monitor staff

At least three neighborhoods in Concord have hitched their economic dreams to redevelopment projects this year. In Penacook it's the former tannery site. The South End wants to see the Blue Cross Blue Shield building bustling again. Downtown is waiting for someone to fill the vacant block where Sears once stood.

City leaders and private developers spent months working on plans for the properties. The city purchased the tannery and struck a tentative deal to sell the Sears block to a private developer. Another developer hopes to buy the Blue Cross building in a few months and fill it with law offices, consulting firms and perhaps classrooms.

Here's a look at what's happening with each of these projects and changes the new year will likely bring:

The Penacook tannery

The folks over at city hall have started calling it the Penacook mill, because "mill" has a nicer connotation than "tannery."

But it's not just the site's name that's getting cleaned up. Next Wednesday, work crews will start filling chromium lagoons, getting rid of drums full of chemicals and removing asbestos.

Meanwhile, Matt Walsh, the project manager overseeing the redevelopment for the city, is working on getting another $350,000 in grant money. The city plans to collect as many grants as possible to help pay for the project, which would cost $5 million if city leaders decide to keep the granite building and $3 million if they choose to tear it down. The new grant money would be used to clean up soil contamination.

"Things are moving along very well," he said, "considering we just bought it the last day of August."

Once the mill is squeaky clean, the city will have to decide what to do with it. In February the city will host a community meeting to find out what the people who live and work in Penacook would like to see on the site.

Sears block

Before the Concord City Council decided to partner with Portsmouth-based developer Mike Simchick to build a swanky new building and parking garage on the Sears block, downtown merchants and landlords lobbied hard for as big a garage as possible.

The city, it seems, listened.

Assistant City Manager Tom Aspell has been figuring out how to offer more than the 330 spaces originally planned for the garage. Under the deal reached between Simchick and city leaders, the city will spend about $5 million on the garage, while Simchick will spend about $10 million to design and build a six-story building.

Aspell and city architects are looking at extending the parking garage either across or above Freight Street and the city parking lot behind the Sears block.

"By going through or over Freight Street and adding that other property we can make it bigger," he said.

While the city devises a parking garage plan, Simchick is busy recruiting tenants for the building. He's keeping mum on just who he's been talking to, but he would like to have some commitments from larger tenants in the next few months. He hopes to have a tentative plan to show the city by late winter.

One of the organizations he would talk about is Red River Theaters, a group of movie buffs who want to open an independent movie house downtown. If things go as planned, Red River would inhabit ground level of the building on the Storrs Street side.

On Main Street the ground floor would include one or two retail shops or eateries. Upstairs would house offices and apartments. The top floor would have an upscale restaurant, perhaps even a supper club.

"It's kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together," Simchick said. "You want to have all the pieces fit."

The Blue Cross building

Local developer Steve Duprey is in final negotiations with a tenant interested in a large chunk of the 120,000-square-foot building. He won't say who it is, but "it might have an educational bent to it," he said.

The building, which sits on the corner of Pillsbury and South Main streets, is on the College of Lifelong Learning's short list of possible sites in Concord.

While waiting for the major tenant to decide, which will happen by the end of January, Duprey has managed to line up a host of smaller tenants, including an out-of-town engineering firm, lawyers and consultants. He expects the project to bring about 45 news jobs to the city.

Once he gets tenants lined up, Duprey has two more items on his redevelopment to-do list: turn a small building on the site into a child care center and figure out how to keep traffic from clogging the neighborhood.

The Concord Planning Board asked him to complete the traffic stuffy in exchange for approving the project. Some changes, such as a stop light at the intersection of Allison and South Main streets, may not be needed for many years, but city officials and Duprey want to make sure there's a plan in place, just in case.

If things go as planned, he wants to start refurbishing the building on Feb. 1.

From The Concord Monitor

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