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New use for old police station in Manchester still unclear

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 13. 2013 11:24PM
A view from behind the glass of the lobby of the old Manchester Police Station on 351 Chestnut St. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - City police officially moved into their spacious new headquarters at 405 Valley St. on Jan. 7, but the old headquarters at 351 Chestnut St. isn't ready yet for its new role, whatever that might be.

Michael Reed, president of Stebbins Commercial Properties, said he visited the headquarters a week ago and was told police department personnel's personal items were still being moved out. At that time, he said, there were also still desks, file cabinets and other "leftovers" to be cleared out.

The Chestnut Street building had been in constant 24-hour service since April 1977, when the police department moved into its "new" headquarters. Manchester Police Lt. Maureen Tessier said there wasn't even a lock on the front door, because the building was always open.

But now there is a lock on the door as the building awaits its new owners.

The price set by aldermen - $2.1 million for approximately 46,000 specialized square feet - doesn't include renovations.

Reed, whose company was selected to market the Chestnut Street building, said: "It's going to be a challenge."

Before the decision was made to put the building on the market, suggestions included moving city departments that now rent space on Elm Street into the building and using the building for storage of city records. Reed said: "It's too valuable a building to be used for storage."

Describing it as a "labyrinth," Reed said: "It was built as a single-purpose use. ... It was tenant specific."

Now that tenant is gone and Reed said adaptive use as an institutional or academic facility is a possibility, or perhaps it could be used for police training.

Limited parking on site could discourage potential buyers, although there is public garage parking within three blocks north and west of the building bounded by Chestnut, Manchester and Merrimack streets.

Although he went into the building the day the police department began its full operation out of the new Valley Street headquarters, Reed said there was still too much left in the Chestnut Street building to really get a sense of how the space could be marketed.

Reed said he will confer with the facilities manager for the police department, who is too busy right now with the police move to set a date for a thorough cleaning. He said what he saw last Monday made him think it would be another week to 10 days before someone could come in and clean the building so it could be evaluated, photographed and prepared for sale.

Although Mayor Ted Gatsas said in August that he was talking to potential buyers, Gatsas later told aldermen the potential buyers felt the price was too high, considering the costs of renovating it for other uses.

Not every company or business has need of holding cells, firing range and locker rooms.

Reed said the Internet will be key in reaching the broadest possible market for the old headquarters. Online brochures will enable Stebbins to reach potential buyers outside the state and, perhaps, even outside the country.

We do still plan to use the newspaper, he said, but to reach the necessary wider market, he will use multiple listing services as well as the Internet.

He is required by contract to try to sell the building for the $2.1 million price set by aldermen. "That's a reasonable starting point," he said.

But if he has a prospective buyer with a somewhat lower figure in mind, he said: "We'd write a contract up and bring it in though."

Then it is up to the aldermen whether to accept, negotiate or reject.

He's not sure he can get the city the desired $2.1 million, but he said he intends to bring the sales price "as close to $2.1 as we can."

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