- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Steve Duprey’s newest downtown project is bringing back something old.

The Concord developer plans to begin a renovation of the former Monitor Statesman Building at 10 Pleasant St., Extension this winter to create a new headquarters for the Londonderry civil, environmental and geotechnical firm, Wilcox & Barton, he announced at a Jan. 13 city council meeting.

The firm, which also has an office in Vermont, will bring 10 employees to the city in late summer or early fall to work in the two-story historic office that was once home to the city’s newspaper in the early 1900s. The Monitor Statesman, now the Concord Monitor, published in the building from 1912 to 1929.

The building’s architecture was influenced by the Classical Revival style, according to a report from the city, and potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“They love the signature piece of this building, they love that it’s part of the history of Concord,” Duprey told the City Council during their Jan. 13 meeting, of Wilcox & Barton.

However, Duprey said, the preservation comes at a cost.

“It’s much more expensive to save older buildings than it is to build new ones,” he said. “It just is very difficult to do.”

Duprey, who is the current owner of the building, is selling the property to Bill Wilcox, the president of Wilcox & Barton, who will lease the building to his firm. An agreement of the sale is that Duprey completely renovates the building, which needs a new roof and doesn’t have an HVAC system, among other issues.

Wilcox’s total budget to set up the new headquarters is $1.58 million, including the $1.22 million to purchase the building from Duprey after renovation.

City staff wrote in a report that Wilcox & Barton’s lease for year one will be approximately $39.69 per square foot, 25% more expensive than the top of the market for non-medical office space in Concord’s downtown.

Duprey told the city council the lease would be “higher than it would cost you to get the biggest, nicest suite in Capitol Commons or 2 Pillsbury St., the Smile Building or Capital Plaza.”

With the same or smaller budget, Duprey said he could knock down the building and build a five-story modern building in its place. However, neither he or his client wishes to do that, he said.

Duprey asked if the city would be willing to offer a tax break to lessen the burden. The Community Revitalization Tax Relief Incentive allows the property owner to pay taxes on the value of the building before it is renovated. Duprey asked that the city approve the tax break for a period of nine years.

The current value of the building is $254,300. Once renovations are completed, the city assessing department projects that the property will have an assessed value of $658,800. If the tax relief was granted, Wilcox would not pay taxes on the $400,000 difference between the base value and projected renovated value.

In this case, it would mean an estimated $126,897 over the course of nine years. The savings per year would be about to $12,690.

The city has awarded other projects this incentive in the last 10 years, including Remi’s Block and Endicott Hotel.

“It’s a great building, we’d like to save it, if we don’t get the relief, that will be the option,” Duprey said of potential demolition. “I will have to take the building down and build a new building. There’s nothing wrong with new buildings, I love new buildings, I’ve built a lot of them. But I think that would be a mistake for Concord.”

Ultimately, the city council voted to approve the break without much discussion. During the public hearing, councilors asked about parking and the building’s Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The renovated building will not have an elevator, Duprey said. The developer said constructing an elevator at the site would be too pricey to do without negatively impacting the building’s historic character. However, the office’s entrance will be accessible and there will be conference room space on the ground floor for clients and employees, he said.

Councilors Keith Nyhan and Byron Champlin thanked Duprey and the engineering firm for bringing a new business to the city making an effort to preserve the historic space.

Duprey thanked Wilcox for his commitment to preservation.

“We’re lucky we’ve got somebody who cares enough about the image of their business that they are willing to frankly, overpay,” Duprey said, of Wilcox. “This is one of those great test cases that I hope the heritage commission listens to.”

The only member of the community who came to speak against the tax break was Roy Schweiker.

“I would say that the proposed use for this building is in fact contrary to what we’re usually told about the downtown, that we want something on the ground floor that will be open, create interest and whatnot, whereas this is an office building, so basically it’s going to be shuttered evenings, weekends, it’s not going to create vitality downtown,” he said. “It’s not going to be housing upstairs, which is another thing people keep seeming to want downtown.”

Duprey bought the building in 2011 when it was The Lighting Place, an independent retail store that specialized in lighting fixtures, for $400,000. He said he subsidized that business from 2012 on to the tune of about $25,000 a year to help them stay viable.

When that business closed in April 2017, Duprey said he had a vision to bring a restaurant or new retail to downtown. In the last two years, he has struggled to find a tenant to fill the space.

“I agree with Mr. Schweiker’s point that we want to have retail on the first floor. I have kept the building vacant for three years and we have marketed it, at our expense, not just given the listing to a realtor, but advertising it, trying to find what I thought would be a perfect place for a restaurant. The costs of renovation of this building, as opposed to new construction, are so high that nobody could touch it,” he said.

“We showed it to restaurants, we hired a national marketing firm, we showed it to retailers. Even at a breakeven, assuming I absorb, which I am $100,000 of loss for holding this property rather than tearing it down, we could not get anyone who could pay those kinds of rents.”

Even if the city had not voted to offer the tax break, Concord residents weren’t likely to see the new money coming in lowering their tax bills. The Monitor Statesman building part of the Sears Block Tax Increment Finance District. In that district, new revenue created from redevelopment and development projects helps support other downtown improvements.

Online: https://bit.ly/2vgRFBn

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