ROCHESTER — The city of Rochester has a new economic development director, and he says the team is poised to invite investors to take advantage of two Opportunity Zones downtown.
Michael Scala, who was born in Rochester and grew up in Wakefield, said he remembers when the Lilac Mall in Rochester was built decades ago and concern about a loss of businesses downtown back then.
Scala said new revitalization efforts are exciting community members, and now they need developers and investors interested in partnering with the city to make downtown Rochester a destination.
“Everyone is just super excited to address that and start the conversation in earnest about what we can do. And I see the Opportunity Zones as, that to me, could be the final piece,” Scala said.
“On May 3, 2018, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu nominated 27 census tracts to be designated as Opportunity Zones, a federal program encouraging economic development and investment in low income areas around the country,” according to The New Hampshire Division of Economic Development website.
Other communities on the Seacoast that have designated Opportunity Zones include Dover, Durham, Seabrook and Somersworth.
Scala said Rochester has a framework for what it can do. He plans to market the city to multiple potential stakeholders once the rules are finalized in New Hampshire.
“It all comes down to the investors. When they finally hear what their return on investment will be, as far as what are the benefits of putting your money in for seven years versus 10 years, versus 15 years, when that all gets hammered out and the rules get written, then you’ll see the money free up,” Scala explained.
The historic Rochester Fairgrounds area is included in one of the Opportunity Zones, city staff member Jenn Marsh said.
“The fairgrounds is our most underutilized piece of property in the city land-wise, but there’s other buildings that have been vacant for a long time that we as a department have been kind of highlighting for these Opportunity Zones so investors know what buildings are available,” Marsh said.
They include Scenic Theatre and Salinger Block buildings on North Main Street.
Rochester’s Economic Development Executive Secretary Jennifer Murphy Aubin said this spring the city worked with graduate students from the University of New Hampshire’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics to develop an Opportunity Zone investment prospectus for the city as part of the students’ year-end capstone project.
Robb Atkinson, who earned his MBA in marketing and organizational behavior, said Friday their research showed Opportunity Zones in Rochester could be transformative for the city.
Rochester has taken its two Opportunity Zones and “put them together in a unique way that covers much of the downtown area and makes it really an attractive place for investors to come and put manufacturing centers in because of the tax incentives,” Atkinson said. “There’s a huge economic upside for anyone who has the capital to do it.”