By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – In a vote that will greatly impact the future development of the Lakes Region and was 25 years in the making, the Executive Council voted 3-2 to enter a purchase and sales agreement to sell the former Laconia State School property with Legacy at Laconia LLC for $21.5 million.
Voting to oppose the sale were Executive Councilors Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, and David Wheeler, R-Milford.
A large and mostly New Hampshire-based development group has ambitious plans to develop the large and picturesque tract at the corner of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road in Laconia into a 1,300-unit development complex, hotel and conference center, retail space and estimates that they might spend as much as $500 million on developing the project.
The property is about 200 acres. For most of the past century, it served the state’s needs for a residential home for the developmentally disabled and then for a while, a medium-security prison.
The state has considered selling the property for 25 years but never got to this point.
It has not been on the tax rolls for about a century.
The city would get property tax, but there have been some concerns voiced by leaders that the city was not allowed full input and that the plan may be too ambitious, and not take full advantage of the property and its 30 aging structures.
The matter was tabled two weeks ago, at the request of Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, to address concerns posed by councilors and Laconia officials.
Mayor Andrew J. Hosmer and Kirk Beattie, city manager wrote a letter two weeks ago outlining some outstanding concerns and charged that the state has “long neglected” the property.
However, the two wrote, “I am confident the city will be a great partner for the developers and new owners.”
The tract is next to Ahearn State Park, with trails and a shorefront on Lake Winnisquam.
The park is not part of the sale.
Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, said there “were significant eyes on the process” to choose a developer from a group of four applicants and it involved community input.
She said all felt the due diligence has been done “confirming in our mind the market feasibility of this project.”
Charlie Arlinghaus, commissioner of Administrative Services, said: “We think it is a really good idea.”
Warmington said she learned a lot of things since she asked to table it. The time has given the city an opportunity to engage with the developer, she said.
Warmington previously said her law firm represents a client who is in a lawsuit with the prime developer, Robynne Alexander, but indicated she did not feel she had to recuse herself from the vote.
Warmington is an attorney and married to attorney William Christie, a partner at Shaheen and Gordon, the law firm representing the woman suing Alexander over an unrelated Manchester development. Warmington is a former partner in the firm and is listed on its website as “counsel” to the firm.
Alexander is currently being sued by Marie Ward, who invested $150,000 in Alexander’s “Signature on Elm” project, according to the lawsuit. The 60,000-square-foot residential and commercial development on Elm Street in Manchester is reportedly now three years behind schedule.
Warmington’s District Director Donnie Spencer told InDepthNH.org that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office recently cleared her to engage in the project deliberations. It is not known who Warmington spoke to at the Attorney General’s Office because spokesman Mike Garrity said that is a matter of lawyer/client privilege.
Wheeler said he is getting a few more calls of concern but “if I have to vote today it is ‘no’” because he needed a little more time.
Gatsas said he never got the personal financial records he asked for, and Arlinghaus said he did not have those records.
“I’m not sure we know exactly who….is investing their dollars,” Gatsas said. “Until I see those…my bet is we will be back in nine months revisiting this.”
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, whose district includes the property noted that the legislature and city were partners on this. The legislature directed the governor to sell the property in the last budget.
The city of Laconia, he said, is really pleased about the first phase of demolition which adds value to the property.
“I hope we get to the Emerald City,” he said.
“We have been as transparent as we can be,” Kenney said and the state “will be involved in the project for a long, long time.”
Gatsas said he did not know of anyone willing to move forward without financial statements.
“I certainly believe in my heart,” Gatsas said, as a developer himself, “that we will see this project back.”
WHO ARE THE DEVELOPERS?
Scott Tranchemontagne, the spokesman for the developers, provided some information about them and some of the projected phases over the first couple of years, in an email to InDepthNH.org earlier this week.
He said the Legacy at Laconia team is “a deep and broad collection of experienced, successful development professionals with successful track records of working on the largest development projects in New Hampshire.”
He said this includes the developers of Portwalk in Portsmouth, Woodmont Commons in Derry and Tuscan Village in Salem among others.
“All of these projects are large mixed-use developments that include residential, retail, restaurant/hospitality and senior living components, like the one proposed,” for Laconia.
The team includes:
– TF Moran – an engineering firm based in Bedford. TF Moran’s portfolio includes one of the state’s largest mixed-use projects currently in development – Woodmont Commons.
Principals Dylan Cruess (COO) and Robert Duval (President) are directly involved in the Legacy project. Other large, notable TF Moran projects include SNHU Arena in Manchester, much of the past 20 years of work at both St. Anselm and Southern NH University, the Manchester Riverfront Development, Granite Ridge Power in Londonderry and the stormwater pollution prevention plans for the $800 million widening of I-93 from Salem to Manchester.
– Hinkley Allen – Legal counsel. Based in Manchester and Boston, Hinkley Allen is providing guidance and legal counsel to Legacy at Laconia. Experienced real estate development attorney John Sokul is working directly with Legacy. He represents owners, developers, retailers and investors in the acquisition, permitting, development, financing, leasing, and operations of commercial properties and shopping centers throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Sokul is currently advising the development of Tuscan Village, one of NH’s largest and most complex redevelopment projects in Salem. Hinkley Allen partner and construction industry veteran Ron Ciotti is also representing Legacy.
– North and South Construction Services
Construction. Based in Newington its chief executive officer is Pete Johnson. In 2006 he co-founded North & South Construction Services providing commercial, industrial, and institutional construction services.
“It has a wide and varied range of renovations and ground-up construction projects to its credit,” said Tranchemontagne including, a $52-million project at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst; multiple projects at different University of NH campuses; the Maine State Office Building; Newburyport Savings Bank, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Kennebunk, Maine High School, and the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods.
The firm was also part of the construction team that built the large mixed-use project in Portsmouth called Portwalk – which includes multiple hotels, restaurants, residential buildings and commercial space.
– Interiors East
Architectural Planning and Design
Founder Jim Wisniewski is one of the owners of the Legacy team.
Interiors East was established in 1996 as a full-service studio offering a full scope of architectural services – from a project’s inception, through planning, design, and development, to construction documentation.
The Londonderry firm is highly regarded for its passion for innovative conceptual design, its hands-on approach to project delivery, and a thorough understanding of the project team’s management needs, Tranchemontagne said.
Projects include commercial, hospitality, retail, non-profits, and adaptive reuse for Verizon, General Dynamics, institutions such as Boston University and Harvard, developers such as Waterstone, as well as many local businesses.
“Interiors East’s vision for the Laconia property has been well received by Laconia officials who have recognized its forward thinking and unique design philosophy that benefits the city, the region, and the state of New Hampshire,” he said.
– Jonathan McCoy
McCoy is another owner of Legacy at Laconia LLC, who will oversee the senior living component of the redevelopment. “With great expertise in senior living, he is redefining the industry standard in elder care technology and community development integration,” Tranchemontagne said.
“He implemented an industry-first, innovative, assisted living/memory care community (Sanctuary Care LLC) in Rye, NH utilizing a subscription service that provides integrated technology to the Home-care and Assisted Living communities.
“He led the family care space development team to the successful completion of the next-generation, real-time, state-of-the-art platform for senior living. He has overseen all aspects of design and development, business planning, capital formation, site selection, and real estate development in the Assisted Living / Memory Care Community sector,” Tranchemontagne said.
– Robynne Alexander
Lead Developer. Alexander spent 22 years in the electrical engineering field. In 2002 she began working in real estate full-time as an agent and then as a broker. In 2006, after completing her Certified Commercial Investment Member education, she moved into the apartment sector full-time.
“She currently has approximately 200,000 square feet of real estate holdings totaling approximately $24.5 million in assets under management, primarily comprised of multifamily real estate investments. Robynne has developed the unique skill set to find, negotiate, renovate and resell adaptive reuse and value add properties providing consistently strong returns for her investors. She works with communities to provide well-built, safe apartment housing in which tenants can take pride,” Tranchemontagne said.
– Kristy Lacroix – the Lacroix Experience
Lacroix has been involved with the disability community for almost 30 years. She created Wheelchair Escapes over 20 years ago to facilitate fun vacations and travel for people with disabilities and their families.
“She presents across the country at conferences such as the Abilities Expo, rehabilitation hospitals, and disability support groups. Wheelchair Escapes is listed on the ALS and MS websites and is recognized by many other disability agencies as the premier travel agency for their client base. Her dream is to create a resort using a universal design that exceeds the needs of all travelers,” Tranchemontagne said.
He said she will use her experience to help the architectural, engineering, and construction team plan and design the redevelopment’s resort property that will go beyond being handicap accessible and be totally barrier-free.
The hotel and resort on the Laconia property would include a convention center, hiking and nature paths, zip lining, rock climbing, a sports center, and off-site activities such as pontoon boat rides, hot air balloons, and more, all 100 percent accessible, barrier free design.
Tranchemontagne said the first years of the plan include the following:
Phase 1 – finalizing the purchase and working collaboratively with the City of Laconia on identifying infrastructure needs and preliminary permitting tasks.
Phase 2 – working on infrastructures such as water and sewer and remediation of existing buildings we plan to keep and renovate.
Phase 3 – demolition of buildings we do not plan to keep.
Phase 4 – begin construction of single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes. These will go in along Eastman and Meredith Center roads.
“It makes sense to build these first because they will be isolated a bit from the other elements toward the center of the site and would not be bothered as much by construction. Also – revenue generated from these home sales will help fund future phases,” Tranchemontagne said.
In its Dec. 6 letter to the council, the mayor of Laconia and its city manager wrote, “This project will be a catalyst for the next phase of community and economic growth for the city and the region. Our residents need assurance that due diligence has been exercised by the State and that the redevelopment of the property will come to fruition.”