City and State See Progress with Laconia State School Sale, but Complex Utility Issues

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Paula Tracy photo

Former Laconia State School property

LACONIA – Both Mayor Andrew Hosmer and Charlie Arlinghaus, state commissioner, said they are pleased with progress on the development of the former Laconia State School, and that an issue identified as the process moves forward is the need to have adequate water and sewer for as many as 1,900 units.

Both Hosmer and the New Hampshire Commissioner of Administrative Services, said the process of due diligence is now underway with a deadline of September before a purchase and sales agreement between the developer and the state is signed.

On Dec. 21, 2022, the state’s Executive Council voted 3-2 to enter a purchase and sales agreement to sell the former Laconia State School property to 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 Manchester-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 housing development complex, hotel and conference center, and retail space.

Estimates are that they might spend as much as $500 million on developing the project. But first, they have to go through a process to determine if the project is viable.

The property is about 200 acres and 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.

Hosmer said there are no estimates yet on the development’s impacts on the tax base because the plan as envisioned would increase service needs at the same time as adding to the tax base.

Mayor Hosmer and Kirk Beattie, city manager have been working with the developer and the state, and the prime developer Robynne Alexander.

When pressed for an update on the former state school by Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, Arlinghaus told Gov. Chris Sununu and the other four executive councilors Wednesday that water rights on the Winnipesaukee River Basin is “sort of a complicated thing.”

The region has a state-owned sewer system that serves 10 communities and the main line for it goes right in front of the property along Parade Road, Hosmer said. But it is not adequate in size.

Arlinghaus told the council that he had an “optimistic” conversation with Hosmer on the project.
In a phone conversation, Hosmer said it has been going well.

“They have a high-quality team around them which is assuring,” and meetings with the city planner and city manager, and the development team.

“On this property, they have proximity to water and sewer lines and some utilities but maybe not enough,” for full buildout, he said. That is primarily an issue for the developer, he said.

“The city does not see it as a stumbling block,” he said. “We are certainly willing to be good collaborative partners on this. But I don’t believe the city has anticipated carrying the whole cost of infrastructure upgrades,” he said.

An attempt to reach the development team for comment through its spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne was not immediately successful.

The Winnipesaukee River Basin Program, developed as part of the Federal Clean Water Act of the 1970s, connected rural towns from Center Harbor south through the Laconia area to provide sewer treatment and is a state program.

“Obviously if they have 1,900 housing units which I think is the highest end they could develop, it is going to…require more usage of the Winnipesaukee River Basin. I don’t know if they are going to need another pump house,” he said. “That is beyond my skill level,” he said, noting he is not involved in the utility aspect of the project.

“I think they are also working on the financing, but that is their side of the road, not ours,” Hosmer said.
The city has the ability to make adjustments as needed with zoning because it is part of a performance zoning district, the major said.

“We’ve got a lot of flexibility for that area,” he said.

“We are just trying to be good partners and collaborate,” Hosmer said adding the state has been helpful.

“Charlie Arlinghaus is exceptional. The work that he does. I am so happy that we have a commissioner of Administrative Services,” Hosmer said. “He cares about the city so we really appreciate that.”

Tranchemontagne, the spokesman for the developers, has previously said that 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.
– 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.
– Jonathan McCoy
McCoy is another owner of Legacy at Laconia LLC, who will oversee the senior living component of the redevelopment. – 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.

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 and 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 to keep and renovate.
Phase 3 – demolition of buildings.
Phase 4 – 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, 2022 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.”

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