MANCHESTER -- A former billiards club and jewelry store on Elm Street are finding a new purpose.
Developer Robynne Alexander is in the process of turning 60,000 square feet into 33 apartments, a cafe or diner, fitness center, public self-storage, office space and a place to pick up packages.
Preserving pieces of the property is part of her strategy.
Two safes that survived a 1940s fire at the former Lemay Brothers Jewelers will be repurposed to hold alcohol bottles in a proposed speakeasy-style bar in the basement.
“With a speakeasy, you have to look like that genre,” Alexander said during a tour last week.
The developer plans to extend the current art deco awning along the entire 150 feet of frontage on Elm Street and retain the glass cubes that make up some walls.
“We’re going to keep the art deco feel and in fact enhance it,” Alexander said.
She plans to invest nearly $7 million in the project, dubbed Signature on Elm, including about $1.9 million to acquire the property on the east side of Elm Street, not far north of Bridge Street. She is using a mixture of financing and personal funds.
She said she has letters of intent for several tenants but nothing ready to announce. A current tenant, Helen’s Tailoring, will remain.
The property includes the former Raxx Billiards, part of which will be turned into a fitness center.
Alexander moved to Manchester in 2018 and remains a real estate broker licensed in California, where she mentored people on redeveloping properties. Alexander said she did multimillion-dollar redevelopment projects in California, but the Manchester one is her biggest and the first in the Granite State.
Alexander wants to acquire other Manchester properties and recently signed a contract to buy 4 Elm St., which the American-Canadian Genealogical Society had called home.
For Signature on Elm, she estimates that the apartments will go up for lease around April 2020. They will be a mix of six studio units, 20 one-bedroom units and seven two-bedroom unit. The apartments would run from 500 to 1,200 square feet. Monthly rents will range from an estimated $1,200 to $1,600.
“The rental market is still pretty solid,” Alexander said.
Units will have utilities metered individually and be titled as condos for possible future condo use.
Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, was upbeat about her project.
“Given the strong response to other recent downtown apartment projects and the macro trends across the region on the need for more housing options, I expect this project to generate a lot of interest and to do well,” Skelton said.
“With continued growth in the Millyard and its proximity to the core of downtown where jobs are concentrated, the North of Bridge area has great potential to see additional residential, retail, and commercial development,” he said.
Alexander also plans to introduce black brick to the lower facade facing Elm Street to break up the monolithic blonde brick.
She plans to keep the cursive Lemay metal sign at the corner of Pearl and Elm streets and clean up the “FOURNIER” sign on the building.
“We’re trying to keep as much historical value as you can,” Alexander said.
Last week, the interior was gutted to the brick interior walls.
Her property also contains 24 dedicated parking spaces with plans for a rooftop deck for apartment and commercial tenants.
The public-package pickup area will allow people to receive a single-use code to open lockers to retrieve packages.
While the city has many places to exercise, “there are fitness centers around but not in the downtown market,” Alexander said.