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Friday, August 15, 2014

Nashua calls for proposals to redevelop downtown parking lot and beyond

NASHUA – City officials took a major step this week toward spurring new development in the area of High Street and School Street, calling for proposals to build a new hotel, performing arts venue or mixed-use project with residential housing in the area.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday authorized Mayor Donnalee Lozeau to work with the city’s business development board to draft a request for proposals to reshape a city-owned parking lot and – potentially – the surrounding property. ...

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NASHUA – City officials took a major step this week toward spurring new development in the area of High Street and School Street, calling for proposals to build a new hotel, performing arts venue or mixed-use project with residential housing in the area.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday authorized Mayor Donnalee Lozeau to work with the city’s business development board to draft a request for proposals to reshape a city-owned parking lot and – potentially – the surrounding property.

The idea was offered earlier this year by Alderman at Large Jim Donchess, who was seeking to bring new activity downtown and expand the housing stock by revamping the underutilized parking lot.

Members of the Committee on Infrastructure expanded the scope of the proposal over the last several months, giving developers more latitude to work on larger projects that could help rejuvenate a bigger section of the neighborhood.

Donchess and Alderman at Large Brian McCarthy said members of the Business and Industrial Development Authority
suggested taking a more expansive view of the project, allowing for participation from private landowners who control nearby property.

“I think the feeling there on my part, and on the part of a number of other people that looked at it, is there’s a lot of underutilized property in that area and it might be a good idea to let someone look at a project that was larger and would take into account all of those things,” McCarthy said.

The area now open for development proposals stretches from a small, city-owned parking lot east of School Street to the area known as “the oval” to the west. It is bounded by School Street to the south and High Street to the north.

A resolution authorized by the board offers three types of acceptable proposals, including mixed-use buildings at least four stories tall, with retail or other business uses on the first floor and at least 60 residential units above. The board envisions using the existing High Street parking garage as supplemental parking for a new development.

New residential units could theoretically yield $100,000 in annual property taxes, plus $40,000 per year in parking permit fees from tenants, according to the resolution approved Tuesday.

Other suggested uses for the area are a new hotel to service business and recreational visitors downtown or a standalone performing arts venue – one of the top priorities for the city’s arts community.

Developers who respond with proposals are asked to provide a conceptual site plan and floor plan, as well as details about the architectural style of any proposed buildings and landscaping features. The city also is requesting information about how the land would be owned or leased and a description of how the High Street garage would be incorporated into the plan.

Proposals will be evaluated based on the strength of the conceptual site plan, as well as how appropriate the development would be for the area and how much property would be utilized. Ability to incorporate retail uses into the project is also part of the evaluation criteria.

The resolution approved this week gives the city the right to reject all development ideas. It calls on the mayor to draft the actual request for proposals in consultation with BIDA, using parameters spelled out by the Board of Aldermen as a guideline.

Aldermen briefly discussed that last aspect of the plan, which raised concerns from Ward 6 Alderman Paul Chasse. Chasse said he would prefer the Board of Aldermen to develop the RFP, saying the board has ceded much of its authority to other committees in the recent past.

“We have a job to do, and I don’t like a third party sitting in,” he said.

Donchess responded that developing RFPs is routinely an administrative function in the city. Alderman at Large Diane Sheehan pointed out that the proposal merely calls for ideas, and doesn’t obligate the city to take action.

“We’ve outlined pretty precisely what we think should be in there,” she said. “If it comes back and it’s not that, we don’t move forward on it.”

McCarthy noted that members of BIDA have extensive expertise in commercial real estate development.

“I don’t see it as abdicating our responsibility,” he said. “I see it as enlisting the people who actually have skin in the game and know how to do this for a living to help us to produce a quality product.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).