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Center of New Hampshire gets a new look

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 30. 2013 4:02AM
A major renovation is under way at the Center of New Hampshire office building at 650 Elm St., Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - The current occupancy rate of 75 percent is the lowest in the history of the Center of New Hampshire office tower, but a $575,000 face-lift at the downtown landmark has the owners hoping to attract more tenants in what they see as a warming market for commercial real estate.

The new lobby and common areas were on display for commercial brokers at a reception on March 14, as leasing agents for the seven-story office complex touted the results of construction that began in October, including a remodeled atrium, fresh paint and carpeting throughout, new lighting and more windows from which to enjoy the expansive views.

Allen Belouin, facilities manager who served as general contractor, described it as the most ambitious renovation since the tower was constructed in 1985.

The building, officially known as 650 Elm St., along with its expo center, 1,000-car parking garage and adjacent Radisson Hotel, make up the Center of New Hampshire, the state's largest mixed-use development, according to Tom Farrelly with Cushman & Wakefield, leasing agents.

The building has only had two owners in its 28-year history - the original builder, JPA Management, headquartered in Braintree, Mass., and North American Specialty Insurance, a Swiss company that bought the building from JPA for $8 million in 1992 and occupied the top two floors for years.

By 2011, the insurance company had consolidated its operations on the sixth floor, and decided to sell. "It was a challenging time to sell because there were so many vacancies at the time," said Farrelly. JPA bought the building back for $8.6 million, just as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was preparing to occupy the seventh-floor.

The entire floor was gutted, and interior design firm Stibler Associates of Manchester was brought in for the renovations. Designer Genella McDonald presided over the creation of contemporary office space that became the template for the rest of the building.

In addition to Harvard Pilgrim and NAS, major tenants include TD Ameritrade, Metropolitan Life and Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global engineering and construction firm.

The health insurance company moved in on April 6, 2012, with approximately 50 employees occupying the newly constructed New Hampshire regional office.

"JPA saw what the designers had done for Harvard Pilgrim and said, 'This is the direction we'd like to take with the rest of the spaces,'" Farelly said.

Old, dark carpets and block glass were replaced with contemporary bright colors and clear windows to let the light in and expose the views. "A lot of what we did was bring in the natural light that was there, just not accessible," said McDonald, "and then supplement that with recessed LED lighting."

The dated 1980s look was replaced with a modern, metropolitan design that McDonald said now gives the Center of New Hampshire one of the city's more contemporary interiors. "It's drawing people who are more used to Boston or metropolitan spaces, and want a more urban feel," she said.

A digitally enhanced and custom-colored aerial photograph of Manchester, with the Center of New Hampshire strategically located dead center, covers most of one wall, dominating the hallway that connects the office tower lobby to the expo center.

Nearby, a new cafe serves customers who can take their meals to high-top tables or lounge areas in the lobby, where white columns rise to the second-floor ceiling in an open atrium that features orange, decorative light fixtures suspended on long cables.

The 45 to 50 real estate agents and local dignitaries who showed up for the March 14 event were impressed, said Farelly, "This has completely transformed how this building is perceived in the market."

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