PORTSMOUTH — Optima Bank recently became the latest business to expand operations to Pease International Tradeport as the area continues to thrive as an economic engine of the Seacoast.
After a slight post-recession lull in construction and occupancy rates, the numbers show business is booming at the Tradeport, with expansions and renovations taking place from one end of the former Air Force base to another.
As of the spring 2013, about 250 companies called the Tradeport home, occupying more than 4.4 million square feet of office, research and industrial space and directly employing about 7,800 people, according to information provided by the Pease Development Authority, the independent state agency created in 1991 to develop the land and assets of the former Pease Air Force Base.
Vacancy rates have continued to decline since 2011, according to an independent real estate survey conducted by CB Richard Ellis Co.
According to CBRE, the industrial vacancy rate at Pease as of January 2011 was 14.4 percent. As of January 2013, vacancy was at 7 percent.
This growth was not lost on Dan and Pam Morrison, who founded Optima Bank in downtown Portsmouth in 2008 and have since opened five other locations. It continues to be the Seacoast’s only locally owned commercial bank, and one of New England’s fastest-growing banks.
Dan Morrison said he was at the Tradeport the day after he heard TD Bank was moving out so he could claim the space. The new full-service Optima Bank branch opened recently and celebrated with a grand opening celebration on Tuesday morning.
Morrison said the downtown Portsmouth location has been successful, but is not an easy place for customers to access.
“We always knew we wanted a second Portsmouth location, and when this opportunity at Pease came up we said, ‘That’s the place,’” Dan Morrison said.
He said he expects the Tradeport to keep growing, particularly with the changes coming to the nearby Spaulding Turnpike that will improve access to the area.
Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear said Pease is a great success story for Portsmouth and the Seacoast.
“I think the opening of the branch here is just a reflection of that success,” Spear said.
The Pease International Tradeport is recognized by the United States Department of Defense as one of the most successful military to civilian conversions in the country.
Among the projects underway at the Tradeport is a $7 million renovation of the 206,000-square-foot former Celestica building by Sig Sauer.
Lease negotiations are underway with Teledyne D.G. O’Brien for 65,000 square feet of space at 162 Corporate Dr. with an additional 37,400 square feet of space in the building available for another tenant. Teledyne expects to significantly increase their employee base, which is currently about 100 employees, when they move into the new facility, according to the PDA.
Phase one of a building site is now being cleared at 183 International Dr. for a 40,320-square-foot office building; NextEra Energy, owners and operators of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, are currently developing 17,385 square feet of space at 108 Corporate Dr.; and 67,000 square feet is being added to an office building at 100 Arboretum Dr., which will serve as a new gateway into Pease once the Spaulding Turnpike expansion project between Dover and Newington is complete.
A 2,400-square-foot convenience/gas station is being proposed for the corner of Manchester and New Hampshire avenues, and a proposal for a 34,000-square-foot office building at 17 New Hampshire Ave. is going before the PDA Board of Directors on Dec. 20 for concept approval.
Passenger airline service is also scheduled to return to the Tradeport soon. After two delays, Allegiant Airlines is scheduled to begin two weekly flights between Portsmouth and Sanford, Fla., on Thursday.