MANCHESTER, NH —Ten months ago local real estate developers Liz Hitchcock and Amy Chhom quietly announced a plan to buy and redevelop the old Cohas shoe factory at 252 Willow Street in Manchester.
The concept was simple. Renovate the old building and reinvent its purpose.
Chhom says “We walked into the building together and asked ‘what if’?”
It was a very good question.
What if they could do something different? What if they could do something that married the ideas of art, community, and business to honor the city’s roots and build something unique for the future?
Manchester is a city in flux and the rise of the tech and biotech industries in the Millyard has led to the renaissance of downtown.
Empty Elm Street storefronts have been replaced by restaurants to delight every palate. We have new apartments popping up on Elm Street and construction of the new Residence Inn by Marriott is well underway on Chestnut Street. And in the heart of downtown, the rebirth of the old Rex Theatre promises to become a new destination for entertainment.
Lost in the dust of all this new construction is the fact that Manchester is a city with a creative spirit. In addition to the Currier Museum of Art and the NH Institute of Art, our community has hundreds of independent artists, musicians, writers, and idea people.
Hitchcock says “Art builds community and drives the amenities that drive economic growth.” And when you connect creative thinking and business, that’s where you find innovation.
Instead of building more mill-style office space, the team from Pinwheel Properties embraced the city’s Master Plan and came up with an idea to create a mixed-use space that would provide much-needed downtown housing, commercial space for entrepreneurs, and community space for people to share ideas and collaborate.
It’s important to Hitchcock and Chhom to create an environment where artists and entrepreneurs can thrive. They envision a community space within the complex that can host meetings and events and connect local business experts who can share their expertise to help people sell their products and grow their businesses.
The Factory has sat idle since the project was announced in January while they worked with the planning board and bank to secure project approval and financing, but they expect to start abatement by mid-November.
Chhom says the old shoe factory needs a lot of work to bring it up to modern standards and it will take about three months to install new pipes, sprinklers, and the many building upgrades and repairs that have to be completed before they can start rebuilding the property.
She says the Factory on Willow has an estimated price tag of $20 million and will include a combined 54 1-bedroom and studio apartments and 12 micro-hotel furnished rentals. They expect work to be complete by late-spring of 2021 and their project website already has a signup for anyone who would like to get on the waiting list for an apartment.
Chhom points out that while they can’t be too specific on pricing for apartment rentals yet, they are currently seeking commercial occupants. She says commercial units are available between 1,000 – and 15,000 square feet and as the first business tenants, people who sign up now will enjoy more flexibility and incentives for pricing and buildouts as they are starting from scratch. Given the city’s current lack of downtown commercial space, it’s an offer that anyone looking for a move should consider.
They’re still a month away from the start of any real work on the project, but they want you to start thinking about your own what-if.
What if you could live and work in the same space?
What if you could collaborate to bring your new ideas to life?
What if you could do it right here in Manchester?
Hitchcock and Chhom are embarking on the largest project of their career with the belief that our city needs a place that not only provides the space to hang your hat but fosters the community you need to grow and prosper. And their what-if project just might become the center of innovation for Manchester in the 21st century.