A future for downtown Concord

What is the ideal scenario for filling up the area’s vacant spaces?


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As I start this column, I am donating blood at the Red Cross Blood Center. I try to do this every eight weeks. It is one free way to have your blood pressure checked! A few centuries ago, they used to bleed patients to help them get better. I am told that is no longer allowed under Obamacare (lol). But it is one way to help others on a one-to-one scale.

I turned 65 last year and have successfully transitioned to Medicare (I think). It is very easy once you are up and running. The coverage is good and affordable. I am saving about $1,000 per month on insurance premiums.

Now being 65, I am starting to dial back. Ostensibly I am on a four-day week, more or less. I am slowly, quietly and deliberately expanding my pro bono work and activities. I am trying to focus on local neighborhood and community efforts. Living in Concord, and being a commercial real estate guy, I have been engaged in multiple discussions and efforts to fill up vacant retail, restaurant and office spaces in the downtown.

Recently, three of us perused the downtown map, identifying 18 empty spaces and storefronts, ranging from 400 square feet to 4,000 square feet. Concord could use some more bistros (like the former 55 Degrees) and pubs, a breakfast place and unique retail. The city, the chamber and Intown Concord will be putting up an inventory with all the salient facts.

There is considerable upper floor space as well. Some is well-suited for office, much of it can (and should be) converted to residential apartments or condos. We talked about adding 20 residential units, two restaurants/pubs and four retail shops by the end of the year. (For more information contact Liza or Susan at Intown Concord.)

Of course, none of this happens without investment. The city has stepped up with the over $12 million rebuilding of Main Street. Now it is the private sector's turn to piggyback off the Main Street investment.

A local developer is getting approvals to build 10 residential condos in the former Sacred Heart Church on Pleasant Street. He had three times demand. So other property owners should be eager to develop/redevelop their properties.

The ideal scenario is 80 to 100 new “at market” housing units in the next year or two. This approach is a layer cake – 50 shops and restaurants (cake) with 100-plus “rooftops” (frosting) bring more shops, pubs, restaurants (cake), which bring more rooftops (apartments, condos, etc.). So, it becomes a matter of whether this ends up as a five, six, seven or eight-layer cake.

I have pondered the empty-nester downsizing idea over the past three years. It is easier said than done. I have looked at over 40 smaller square-foot homes (most being “fixer-uppers”) and a half-dozen condos. Concord housing stock generally lacks townhouse units for rent or condos.

What is interesting is the NH Legislature has passed a bill allowing accessory units in single-family homes. Cities and towns need to amend their zoning ordinances and regulations to accommodate this change.

Traditionally, such units, often known as “in-law apartments,” had to be for related parties. The logic is that if elderly homeowners can earn rental income and get help around the old homestead, they can stay there longer, avoiding the costly care of assisted living. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I could create such a unit in my home relatively easily, which then gives me the option of downsizing in place. I am pondering this option.

My son and daughter like it because they think they can keep storing their “stuff” here!

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management and principal of Harrington & Reeves, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Facilities Management Administrator (FMA). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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