City Year NH on the move: New life for old ‘Serenity Place’ on Manchester Street

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This building will become HQ for City Year NH. File Photo

MANCHESTER, NH — By the end of the year, City Year New Hampshire is expected to have new offices in a renovated building on Manchester Street which will also feature dormitory-style housing for AmeriCorps members serving in the Manchester area.

The project is made possible by Matt and Jody Wilhelm, both CityYear alumni and members of Make It Better LLC,  which purchased the dilapidated building at 99-101 Manchester St. — the former home of Serenity Place — for about $500,000 last month.

From left, Mike Skelton, CEO and President of the Greater Manchester Chamber, Jody and Matt Wilhelm of Make It Better LLC, their daughter, Rosie, 4, and Pawn Nitichan, Senior VP and Executive Director of City Year NH, talk about the renovation project on Manchester Street. Photo/Pat Grossmith

They were finishing renovations on a multi-family home that they were going to lease to AmeriCorps members when Pawn Nitichan, senior vice president and executive director of City Year New Hampshire, called them to say City Year was looking for new office space in downtown Manchester.  With the help of Will Kanteres of Kanteres Real Estate, the Wilhelms found the building on Manchester Street.  They sold the multi-family home, bought the building and secured a construction loan.

Renovations will cost another $500,000 and are being overseen by Roland Martin, president of Cornerstone Construction, which just recently completed the $1.7 million renovation of the Rex Theatre on Amherst Street.

When completed, City Year will rent the first floor offices at 101 Manchester St. from Make It Better LLC and 15 AmeriCorps members will move into 101 Manchester St., with rooms on the second and third floor.   Each AmericCorps member is expected to pay around $600 a month, which includes all utilities, WiFi and a parking pass at a nearby public lot.

There will be two separate entrances, one to the City Year offices, which will be housed on the first floor, and the other for the housing unit.  The building will also feature laundry facilities and a community kitchen.

Mayor Joyce Craig (in green) joined by Policy and Strategic Outreach Director Lauren Smith, talks with Roland Martin, left, president of Cornerstone PDC while Pawn Nitichan, far right, Senior VP and Executive Director of City Year NH, looks on. About three-dozen people took a hard-hat tour of the future offices for City Year, which will also provide dormitory housing (about 15 units) for AmeriCorps service members. Photo/Pat Grossmith

Matt Wilhelm said they have not decided yet how the AmeriCorps members will be selected for the housing.  A concern of young people wanting to serve a year with AmeriCorps is the lack of affordable housing, he said.

Nitichan said the project is exciting particularly when it was made possible by City Year alumni.

Matt and Jody Wilhelm first met in 2006 while serving as AmeriCorps team leaders with City Year, she in Boston and he in New Hampshire.  The name “Make It Better” comes from the former slogan of The Timberland Co. which provided uniforms for City Year AmeriCorps members serving across the county and housed City Year NH’s offices at its global corporate headquarters in Stratham.

On Wednesday, about three dozen people, including local, state and federal officials, took a “hard hat” tour of the facility.

“I’m grateful Matt and Jody are stepping up and filling a critical need in our community by renovating this vacant, dilapidated building and converting it to office space and affordable housing for City Year and AmeriCorps members,” Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said.   “Manchester AmeriCorps members’ commitment to partnering with our students, our teachers and our community continues to make the Queen City a better place.  This revitalization effort will add to the vibrancy of downtown and I’m hopeful it will inspire other property owners to evaluate the potential for underutilized spaces.”

Mike Skelton, CEO and president of the Greater Manchester Chamber, said these types of redevelopment projects are not for the “faint of heart” but people take them on because of their passion and their belief in the city.

He said the chamber, from an economic development perspective, had been eyeing Manchester Street for years, wondering how to jumpstart development.   He believes this project will be the catalyst for additional redevelopment in that area.

Barbara Stewart, CEO of the Corporation for National & Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps, and AmeriCorps members took part in the tour.