The Manchester Millyard is known for its transformation from factories to a tech hub over the past century.
But for the past several years, developers have worked to fill a demand for housing in southern New Hampshire by converting commercial space into apartments. The trend is only expected to grow with the office real estate market in flux amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brady Sullivan Properties, which has successfully converted space in other mills across New England, wants to add another 61 apartments to the Jefferson Mill, 670 N. Commercial St. The building already has 34 apartments which hit the market last year.
The units at the Lofts at Jefferson Mill, which feature exposed brick and beams, wooden floors, vaulted ceilings and oversized windows, were filled quickly, said Arthur Sullivan, co-owner of Brady Sullivan.
“We had a little more vacancy coming up and we thought it would make sense to convert those to apartments as well,” Sullivan said. “It is really nothing new for us. Most of the mills that we own throughout New England have a mixed use of commercial and residential.”
The cost of the apartment project is estimated to be about $3.3 million, according to materials submitted to the planning board. The project requires a conditional-use permit from the board.
The plans call for two one-bedroom units, 57 two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units, which range from 943 square feet to 1,682 square feet. The lofts run $1,660 to $2,145 a month, according to the Brady Sullivan website.
In 2013, the company opened 110 high-end apartments at The Lofts at Mill No. 1 on Bedford Street and the Lofts at Mill West across the Merrimack River near Catholic Medical Center.
Real estate developer Ben Gamache is also converting commercial space at 62 Lowell St. and 540 Chestnut St. — on the other side of Elm Street from the Millyard — into apartments, nine- and 12-units respectively.
The conversion plans were in the works before the pandemic, Sullivan said.
“It is a reflection of where the market is in that there is a tremendous amount of demand for housing options across the board,” said Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. “It is positive to see projects like this being proposed because they are going to bring more vibrancy, foot traffic and density to the central business district.”
The growth in housing helps draw people to entertainment venues, shops and restaurants downtown, he said. These sectors will need a lot of support to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, he said.
Southern New Hampshire could benefit from people looking to move, given employees now have more flexibility to work from home, Skelton said.
Keri Laman, owner of Tidewater Catering, operated Bayona Cafe out of the Jefferson Mill before the pandemic forced her to temporarily close. The business relies on foot traffic, mostly from the Millyard’s many businesses.
“We don’t want vacant spaces,” she said, which means the switch to more residential units is good news.
She has seen success from a mix of residents and workers at another one of her restaurants, Unity Cafe, at the Sundial Center off Queen City Avenue.
“There is sort of a new outlook for excitement in Manchester,” she said.
Brady Sullivan expects the apartment project to take about six to seven months to complete.
Tenants will take advantage of the proximity to Elm Street, Sullivan said.
“These are people who enjoy being outside, enjoy walking and being in the central business district,” he said. “It is a lifestyle.”