August 10. 2016 10:17PM

Londonderry viewed as potential tech hub

By ELI OKUN
Union Leader Correspondent


Peter Nash, Richard Flier and intern Andrew Cunningham are some of the forces behind upcoming plans for a science park in Londonderry. (ELI OKUN/UNION Leader Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY — A group of developers wants to create an agriculture- and technology-oriented science park in Londonderry, building the commercially fertile area near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport into a hub for high-tech and scientific innovation.

Visionary Partners bought a 45-acre parcel on Aviation Park last year and is hoping to sign a deal within about six months with a company in discussions now. If that goes well, the developers envision gradually acquiring other nearby land or buildings to expand the park, non-contiguously.

Their hope is to emulate similar larger parks like Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., and a prominent science park in southern Taiwan.

Developers say this would be the first such park in New Hampshire.

Richard Flier, whose Visionary Institute joined forces with the Manzo Company to create the New Hampshire-focused development partnership, said the science park could encompass a wide swath of activities — including research, engineering, production, manufacturing and distribution.

“We saw the potential of that area — the infrastructure and the highway system, the airport, but all the parks and all the existing commercial development that’s up there was very obsolete and dated,” said Mike Manzo Jr. of the Manzo Company.

As the Pettengill Road area boomed with big-name companies and warehouses over the past couple of years, he added, that started to change. “We saw an opportunity to kind of take it the next step,” Manzo said.

The developers are open to a variety of possibilities for the types of companies their park could comprise — from food production or a beer distributor to biotechnology or design.

The partial agricultural focus harkens back to the town’s roots, perhaps updating them for the 21st century as Londonderry has transformed from a rural farming town into growing Boston exurb.

Hundreds of high-paying, skilled jobs could lure people from the Boston area and elsewhere to relocate to Londonderry, which Flier said would dovetail perfectly with the coming Woodmont Commons development in town.

He noted that unlike in previous eras, the economic benefits of Boston’s current high-tech boom haven’t spread as readily to New Hampshire.

And the developers foresee fruitful research and internship connections with New Hampshire colleges and universities.

Across the science park system, Visionary Partners also wants to use cutting-edge green development practices to protect the environment and reduce its carbon footprint. Those could include, for example, an anaerobic digester that converts waste into fuel, lowering energy costs as well.

“It will be a true endeavor of trying to practice what we are talking about with the real estate itself,” Flier said. “If you can, just for a little more money, be proud of the fact that you’re trying to keep the planet a little cleaner and safer, then we’re going to try to do that.”

Employee quality of life would be paramount: Flier said they want to create a system of walking trails and possibly add some sports or recreational options. And they intend to preserve a wetlands area to protect endangered species.

Tthe Aviation Park land, just across the road from Stonyfield Farm, could ultimately support 300,000 to 350,000 square feet of development. It was one of the last remaining parcels of its size when Visionary Partners snapped it up for a few million dollars. All its utilities were already available, but a lot of rocky ledge will have to be removed.

Flier said full build-out there could take about five years. The project, like the park in general, has been discussed with town staff in past years but has yet to go through the formal planning processes.

“Time will tell over the next couple of years how this turns out, if New Hampshire’s ready for it,” Flier said, “but I think it is.”