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March 15. 2013 10:26PM

Londonderry project called an economic engine


Adjacent to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Pettingill Road ends at a baracade near Industrial Drive. A proposal is in the works to connect the road with Raymond Wieczorek Drive, the main airport access road. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Right now, it's a road to nowhere. But if Pettingill Road in Londonderry can be extended to intersect the new access road to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, it could become an economic engine to rival the Pease International Tradeport in the Seacoast or the Centerra Resource Park near Dartmouth Hitchcock in Hanover.


That would create thousands of new jobs and millions in new tax revenue, according to Russ Thibeault, president of Applied Economic Research in Laconia.

Thibeault, who just completed a year-long analysis of the project, presented his findings on Tuesday to a regional economic development group, Access Greater Manchester, in a meeting at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce offices.

State and local officials have known for years that extending the road and utilities at a cost of $12.5 million presents great potential for developing nearly 1,000 acres of buildable land in Londonderry near the airport. Thibeault told the group of city officials, planners and business owners that the time is now.

"The next steps are really in Londonderry's lap," he said. "This study has created some momentum. This is going to happen. It is only a question of when."

That question of "when" has been floating for the past decade. Earlier studies by the state Department of Transportation in 2003 predicted that development of the land would create 5,000 to 6,000 jobs.
MHT development map


Little action was taken on the concept, however, until the new access road, Raymond Wieczorek Drive, was completed in 2011. Pettingill Road is now fully permitted and engineered, but the clock is ticking, with permits beginning to expire in July 2014, Thibeault said.

He told the group that the land around Pettingill Road presents a unique development opportunity, given the excellent access to the interstate highway system and the airport. "There is essentially no competition for its large, flat sites serviced by sewer and water elsewhere in the state," he said.

The town would install utilities along the road, and tenants would pay for extensions to individual properties in a development that could mimic Pease with its diversity of tenants and economic impact.

Thibeault outlined a variety of funding options, including economic development grants, general obligation bonds, private-public partnerships and impact fees.

The original Pettingill Road in Londonderry, at the south end of the airport's Runway 17/35, ends in a dirt road at the intersection of Industrial Drive. Planners envision the new extension as a tree-lined boulevard running from that intersection to Wieczorek Drive at the intersection of Roundstone Drive, the road connecting Wieczorek to Route 3A.

The 1,000 acres that would then be open for development is about equal to the buildable space at Pease, which is now at capacity, and much more than Centerra - the two sites Thibeault focused on in his study, paid for by the Londonderry Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

"The charge was to develop an objective analysis of market support for the development, and to evaluate the financial benefits and costs to the town, given the pace of development that I believe would occur once the road is built," he said.

Based on the experience of Pease and Centerra, and current improvements in market conditions, Thibeault projected that 150,000-square-feet of construction would occur each year on land surrounding the road, creating 10,000 to 15,000 new jobs over time, and generating $200 million to $300 million in new property value the town could tax.

The best bet for the town, he said, would be to line up a major tenant before the road construction begins. He said a 500,000-square-foot tenant would give Londonderry an immediate break-even on its investment.

Ownership of the land around the road varies, with some parcels owned by the airport, and others held by private investors like the Tamposi-Nash Real Estate Group Inc.

"Market conditions have been weak, but are gradually improving, and despite the current weakness are adequate to justify the town's investment," he said. "Overall, there is no more attractive, tax-generating investment Londonderry can make in itself than the Pettingill Road infrastructure."

dsolomon@unionleader.com