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December 12. 2012 12:02AM

Lowe's sites in city, Hooksett still empty

When Lowe's announced in October 2011 that it was closing three of its New Hampshire stores, the move left residents in Manchester, Hooksett and Claremont wondering what would happen to the large retail spaces once occupied by the home improvement giant.

More than a year later, they are still wondering, although there's been no shortage of rumors, particularly surrounding the locations in Claremont and Hooksett, according to town officials in those communities.

"The three Lowe's properties - Claremont, Hooksett and Manchester - are on the market and available," said Maureen Wallace, a Lowe's spokesman. "We are actively seeking tenants, as well as maintaining the facilities."

Nancy Merrill, Claremont's director of planning and development, said the Lowe's sign came down at the Washington Street location recently, triggering speculation.

"There have been a lot of rumors up here, but we haven't seen anything come through our office that is specific and tells us anything is going on," she said. "We've heard that something is happening, but we have not had anyone contact us about developing that site further."

Claremont officials were shocked that the 103,000-square-foot store lasted only a year after opening with much fanfare in 2010. "We were very surprised because it took a lot of effort for them to build there," Merrill said. "This was a new building, a nice, new building on a newly finished site. I'm sure it was very costly."

The location is just a few doors down from a Home Depot.

"I don't know if it's the nature of the economy or the size of the building that's making it difficult to attract investors," she said.

In Hooksett, the vacant space occupies 17 acres on Commerce Drive that town officials would love to see occupied.

"It's a significant building in a location that gets a lot of traffic," said Town Administrator Dean E. Shankle Jr. "Since Lowe's went out, we have had at least two national companies that have looked at it and called me for information, but at this point no other action has been taken. People are looking at it, which is a good thing."

Hooksett Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Matt Labonte said the building has been "the subject of the rumor mill" but the town had no information about a potential occupant.

The town hopes to enhance the value of the property by extending municipal sewer service to the site, which is shared by the Hooksett Walmart.

The town is negotiating with Walmart to help finance the project, and recover its costs through hook-up fees, credits, or some other arrangement. The existing sewer main would have to cross beneath the Merrimack River to reach the Walmart and Lowe's property.

"Walmart really wants this," said Shankle, "and it would be helpful to Lowe's as well. One of the companies that talked to me about the property was concerned about the lack of sewage because they use a considerable amount of water for what they do."

The site is now serviced by separate septic systems.

In Manchester, Mayor Ted Gatsas said there is less pressure to fill the space, because Lowe's was leasing. "The owners are still being paid by Lowe's," he said. "We would like to see it filled, but we are not getting a negative effect with a building that is vacant and someone looking for an abatement on it."

The three New Hampshire closures were announced in late 2011 as part of a Lowe's restructuring that saw 20 stores close nationwide, and layoffs affecting about 1,950 employees. New Hampshire was the hardest hit, as no other state had more than two stores close.

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.



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