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Bay State developer not giving up on Manchester student housing plan

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 10. 2014 9:49PM

MANCHESTER — A Massachusetts-based developer wants another crack at buying the city’s Pearl Street parking lot to build nine-story towers for college students.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen rejected the last proposal from James Vitas of the VMD Companies in November, but the latest offer is different in one crucial respect: VMD proposes arranging financing for the roughly $60 million project on its own.

Vitas had previously proposed buying the Pearl Street lot, a block north of Bridge Street and a block east of Elm Street, for $900,000, while requesting the city issue bonds to finance its construction. That proposition was roundly rejected by the city’s finance and legal officials.

VMD is now offering the city $1 million for the Pearl Street lot, according to a letter of intent from Jason Fellman of MHT Strategies to the aldermen’s Land and Buildings Committee. Fellman states that he is representing VMD.

The buildings committee will hold a special meeting on Monday to review the proposal, as well as a request from the McIntyre Ski Center for a $250,000 city loan to make improvements to the ski area.

In his letter to the committee, Fellman notes that VMD had “engaged in constructive dialogue” with city staff over the last several months. “The buyer has incorporated aspects of many of those discussions into this revised letter of intent,” he writes.

The design of the building remains largely the same as earlier proposals: 240 units housing 756 beds arranged in two towers, with the first three floors serving as a parking garage. There would be two courtyards and a clubhouse.

One potential sticking point of the deal is what right the city would have, if any, to spaces in the parking garage. So far, debate over the proposal has not dealt with potential quality of life issues raised by such a large concentration of college students, or legal questions around limiting residency to that category of renters.

VMD’s goal is to cater to the growing number of students that attend area colleges, such as the New Hampshire Institute of Art, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy Sciences and UNH-Manchester.

The revised proposal comes as a deal appears to have finally been reached to sell the old downtown police station for $875,000 to a development team with Massachusetts ties. The broker on the deal had previously indicated that student housing was one of the uses being considered by the development team.

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