September 08. 2018 9:13PM

Paul Feely's City Hall: City OKs tax credits for former Indian Head, Kamen ventures

By PAUL FEELY


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City aldermen have approved applications from two developers for the RSA 79-E tax credit program for the renovation of 540 N. Commercial St. and converting the former Indian Head Athletics store on Lake Avenue to a restaurant and bar.

The tax credit lets developers who improve blighted properties in downtown areas delay paying property taxes on the value of the improvements. To qualify, the applicant must meet several requirements - including language that the rehabilitation of the structure must cost at least 15 percent of the pre-rehabilitation assessed valuation or at least $75,000.

Oracle GM and VP of Product Strategy Kyle York went before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week for a public hearing on his application to convert 18-20 Lake Ave., the former site of the Indian Head Athletics store, from a retail space to a restaurant and bar.

The scope of the work entails completely gutting the interior and reconfiguring the site for use as a bar/restaurant with a full commercial kitchen and prep/cook facilities in the basement. It will include new electrical wiring and new plumbing to support both the bar and the kitchen, as well as new bathroom facilities.

According to paperwork filed with the city, the building's front facade will be renovated to fall "more in line" with Manchester's Millyard history, while the rear of the building will be reworked as well. York estimates the total cost for all structural, electrical, plumbing, heating and mechanical work to come in around $612,500.

"It's kind of a perfect location for what we're trying to do with it," York told aldermen during a public hearing last week.

"I'm excited this isn't going to become another parking lot," Ward 12 Aldermen Keith Hirschmann said.

The second application for the RSA 79-E tax credit program discussed last week involved 540 N. Commercial St. Representatives for noted inventor Dean Kamen went before the city planning board last month, asking to reduce by two-thirds the impact fees he owed the city in building 29 residential units in the building. City planners said the development would ordinarily be assessed $101,473 in impact fees; Kamen has asked the planning board to discount those fees to $35,206.

Kamen bought 540 N. Commercial St. and plans to build 20 one-bedroom units and nine studio units at the site.

In the RSA 79-E program application, representatives of property owner Five-Forty North Associates, LLC filed paperwork estimating $6.1 million in building improvements, including $1.9 million to replace 250 windows.

No city residents and/or abutters spoke at either public hearing, and both applications were quickly approved by the board.

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Members of Manchester Proud - the new civic group working to provide the resources necessary for city schools to launch a new "community-centric strategic planning effort" - told members of the Board of School Committee during a recent update that engagement with the community has already exceeded expectations and appears poised to grow quickly in the coming months.

"The community's response to Manchester Proud continues to amaze and inspire us," said Barry Brensinger, design principal at Manchester-based Lavallee Brensinger Architects and one of the founding members of Manchester Proud. "There is clear consensus that now is the time for this essential work and we simply cannot fail."

During the update to board members, Brensinger and fellow Manchester Proud founding members Arthur Sullivan of Brady Sullivan Properties and Patty Lynott of Southern New Hampshire University said the group has formed five community-led work groups and held more than 40 meetings; held more than 50 fundraising visits and raised more than $300,000 from the Manchester community; and issued a Request for Proposals seeking a firm to conduct a comprehensive assessment of Manchester schools to provide the community with a baseline on the current state of learning in the city.

Other highlights from the briefing included several upcoming community engagement efforts Manchester Proud has planned, including:

. A community survey that will soon go live on Manchester Proud's website (www.manchesterproud.org) to gather input and engage community members in the work;

. Neighborhood canvasses across the city beginning Sat., Sept. 15, at McLaughlin Middle School;

. One-on-one meetings with every school principal in the district;

. And a workshop scheduled for Oct.18 at SNHU to map out available community resources.

"We are excited that so many people have already signed up to join in a canvass or listening session," Lynott said. "As students, families and educators head back to school, Manchester Proud will be out there talking with them, celebrating all of the amazing work happening in our classrooms and listening about how we can move forward together."

"Manchester's business community continues to deepen its support for Manchester Proud," Sullivan said. "The Chamber of Commerce has hosted a number of meetings and plays a pivotal role on the communications work group and community resource mapping work group. It is clear the business community recognizes our future depends on our ability to educate our students and retain our graduates."

For additional information on Manchester Proud or to join, visit www.manchesterproud.org.

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City aldermen heard a a brief presentation last week on a new citywide effort launching this fall, the first annual One Book One Manchester community reading program. According to organizers, "the entire city will read the book 'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid simultaneously through pop-up book clubs, discussion groups, exhibitions and other events."

"One City One Book" programs typically involve book discussion sessions, lectures on the book or related topics, a visit by the author, exhibits, related arts programming and integration into school curricula.

Events include a storytelling festival at the New Hampshire Institute of Art on Oct. 13 and a book discussion at the Manchester City Library on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.

"Books help all of us to see the world from different perspectives and develop connections," Mayor Joyce Craig said in a statement. "To have residents from across the Queen City come together and read the same story is incredibly powerful, and will help to further strengthen our literary community."

For more information about how to get a copy of the book and events around the city, visit the Facebook page @1BOOK1MHT.

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A reminder: Public schools in the city are closed on Tuesday, Sept. 11, for the primary elections.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.