Donald Trump says that real estate is always good. I agree with that sentiment because of my belief that there is always potential. Sometimes to reach the potential takes a lot of work, but it is possible – anything is possible. (One of my favorite quotes is that “Impossible only means that you haven’t found the solution yet.”).
During a recent visit to Manchester, my family and I drove around and took note of several commercial properties where either the business closed or appears to have been abandoned. I was thinking how finding good use of these properties would help the city in many ways, not the least of which is that it would put the properties back on the tax rolls.
Having vacant and abandoned properties causes many problems for communities, including decreased property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health, and increased costs for local governments. According to Statista.com, the overall national vacancy rate for non-residential properties in 2014 was 32.2 percent. This may or may not be the exact number in Manchester, but there is an alarming trend that needs to be addressed in order for the city to thrive. As I shared in my last post, the backbone of Manchester’s economy is still small business. My concern is that we are not doing enough to encourage small business or to create a business-friendly environment that would make it more feasible for their growth.
I have listed some examples of abandoned commercial properties or shuttered businesses in MHT and my ideas for them. There are more examples in the city, but these are ones that need the greatest attention in my opinion.
The first property is located at 220 Londonderry Turnpike, (at the corner of Wellington Road). This is an empty and somewhat dilapidated building with overgrown landscape surrounding it. According to the tax assessor’s public GIS map viewer, this property is connected with Capital Auto Auction at Route 101 and Londonderry Turnpike, (Exit 1). While driving by, we noticed that the property and building was for lease, as it has been for several years. According to the tax assessor, this property is valued at over $978,000 with the last tax bill being almost $11,600.
I see several possibilities for this property. With all the talk about casinos, I have noticed that there has not been talk of amending state law to allow sports betting. Currently only Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana allow sports betting. Allowing sports betting in New Hampshire would open the door for a sportsbook facility. While not a full-fledged casino, (which I personally think are going to be oversaturated after the opening of the three in Massachusetts), it would be a great revenue source and would increase the valuation of the property. I am not an outspoken advocate of casino gaming, and actually have some fiscal and social concerns with them, but believe if done right, this property would be a great spot for a sportsbook. (And it would be unique as New Hampshire would be only the fifth state nationally – and first in New England – to allow sports betting. The closest state to New Hampshire to have legalized sports betting would be Delaware). As a side note, (and for the purpose of information), annual legal betting on the Super Bowl alone is about $100 million, while illegal betting was expected to reach $3.8 billion for the Patriots – Seahawks contest.
My second idea for the site is a small grocery store, possibly a local or even a chain such as Aldi. The growing international grocery chain Aldi is a discount grocery chain headquartered in Germany. To keep prices low, they do several things including chaining and locking their carts, which requires users to insert a quarter, (which is returned upon putting the cart back); they only accept cash, debit, and EBT cards for purchases; they employ a “bring your own bag” system; and they sell mostly store brands. Many of the brands are new to us but are popular oversees. There is currently one New Hampshire location, which is in Keene. A new store is set to open in Nashua in December.
Another idea for the property would be a Bingo hall, similar to the one that used to be next door to Hannaford on John Devine Drive. Maybe a charitable Bingo hall or a pay-out hall, the latter of course being for-profit and subject to property tax.
The second property is the former Lowe’s store at 707 Huse Road, (near the Mall of New Hampshire). According to the tax assessor, this property is valued at over $14.2 million with the last tax bill being almost $168,000. This is a large building so outside of dividing it into sections, there aren’t many businesses that come to mind. However, a few ideas for this property include opening a second Manchester Market Basket along with another store. Another idea is to get LL. Bean to open a larger, regional location in the building to replace the current outlet store on South Willow Street, or even maybe open a newer outlet store next to a Market Basket.
Another property that will soon be empty is the current Walmart on Keller Street. This property is valued at more than $8.7 million with the last tax bill being almost $102,400. Ideas for this property include an outdoor megastore such as Bass Pro or Cabela’s.
There is a smaller Bass Pro in Hooksett, (in a former, smaller Lowe’s), and the nearest Cabela’s is in Hudson, Massachusetts, (58 miles from MHT). You may recall that Cabela’s was planning a Hooksett store near the exit 11 interchange of Interstate 93, off of Hackett Hill Road. The talks with the state as well as with the town of Hooksett ended so the deal fell-through. I think that an opportunity exists for the city to attract them. Another idea is an IKEA, although I’m not sure if they would open a store that close to their Stoughton, Massachusetts location or if the property is large enough. But it never hurts to ask!
Some other city properties include the former Stop and Shop at 500 Valley Street. (Value of over $17 million, [plaza valuation excluding Easter Seals building at corner of Wilson], with the last tax bill being over $201,000). My primary idea for the old Stop and Shop building is another grocery store, namely Price Rite. This would be great fit for the area as it would replace a former grocery store, which is needed in the area, and it would bring a new-to-the-community business.
The former Shaw’s at 375 South Willow Street, (value of over $9.73 million with the last tax bill being over $114,300) is yet another example. This would be a good site for a relocated Hannaford, which is currently on John Devine Drive, basically abutting the new Walmart property.
My final example is a property on the West Side at 122 McGregor Street, (the Rite Aid plaza next door to CMC). This property was formerly occupied by Rite Aid, Vista Foods, and a New Hampshire liquor store but is now only occupied by Rite Aid. This property is valued at $2.8 million with the last tax bill being almost $33,000. Ultimately I would like to see this property reconfigured so that it matches the lost neighborhood aspect of the area, but for the sake of this post my recommendation will only involve opening a business in the existing building.
I would like to see an urban market opened in the old Vista Foods space. This could be a collaborative of local and New Hampshire farms and food co-ops that would feature fresh, local and regional foods. This area has been in need of a mid-size to large market ever since Vista closed. There are no properties large enough in the area to build a market so this would be a good alternative. Building another structure in the parking lot; maybe a book exchange or a “Little Free Library” type of offering, would also be a good idea.
Altogether, my examples represent a total valuation of over $53.63 million with tax revenues of over $630,000. While a couple of examples, (specifically the former Stop and Shop and the former Vista Foods), are part of larger properties that are all-inclusive for tax purposes, updating the properties and adding tenants would increase valuations. This increase in valuations would lead to increased tax revenue and also reduce the number of vacant, untaxed commercial properties in the city.
Finding ways to increase revenue is something that is often mentioned at City Hall. Instead of increasing taxes on homeowners, we should think of ways to fill vacant commercial property with new tax-generating businesses and take steps to ensure that they have an environment that allows them to thrive.
As I stated earlier, there are many examples of vacant commercial properties in Manchester. Feel free to share some that you know of.
Catch up here: For the Love of Manchester archives.
About the author: Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980 at the age of 8. He attended Gossler Park Elementary, Parkside and Southside Junior High, and West High, from which he graduated in 1990. After attending Notre Dame College in Manchester, Brian completed his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College in Providence. Brian and his wife Jackie then came to Manchester in 2004 and were involved in various outreach organizations. Their two boys were born in Manchester during this time. After his position was eliminated in 2009, Brian and his family returned to Rhode Island. They have been living in Providence since 2010. Brian and his family love Manchester and are planning on returning within the next few months. Brian is currently working at helping the city move forward by connecting with other stakeholders and becoming involved with like-minded groups. Brian is also laying the foundation for an organization that will help strengthen the city and help it move forward.
Brian holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Grand Canyon University. Brian currently works at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also founder of a Facebook Group, Manchester Forward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.