Airport area development set to take off

While the recent focus of activity near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport lately is on the eagerly awaited airport access road, other activities will have long-term impacts on the future of real estate development in the area as well.

Airport access road: If you travel anywhere near the airport these days, you can see construction activity going on. From the tunnel and bridge work at the Bedford toll houses on Route 3, to the bridge work at Brown Avenue, to the bridge and road work at Perimeter Road, it is clear that the pace has picked up and the road that was long planned, discussed and delayed is becoming a reality.

Four major contracts are left on the project, and the first two have received federal stimulus funding, allowing the timetable to be advanced. If the DOT can find the funds for the last two, they can also be advanced so that the entire project can be completed in mid-2012 — about two years sooner than originally planned.

When completed, the road will bring traffic from Route 3 near the Bedford tolls to a location roughly across Perimeter Road from the UPS facility, with off ramps at Daniel Webster Highway near the Bedford-Merrimack town line and Brown Avenue.

Pettingill Road: The real key to opening up the 800 acres or so of raw developable land in Londonderry just south of the airport is the construction of Pettingill Road. Pettingill will connect that corner with the access road by running generally westerly from that corner to the access road, where there will be an intersection with a traffic light, allowing traffic to go west to Bedford or north to the airport.

The project is part of Londonderry’s Northwest Small Area Master Plan work, which also includes the Exit 5 area of Interstate 93.

The town is working hard to find the funds to build the road. A tax increment financing proposal will be presented to town voters, and efforts are under way through the state’s congressional delegation to obtain federal funds.

Estimates are that almost 4 million square feet of space can be developed in the area, creating 6,000 jobs.

Area towns and master planning: In addition to Londonderry’s Northwest Small Area planning, what are the other communities doing?

Manchester, Londonderry, Bedford and Litchfield have contributed Community Technical Assistance Program money they received as part of the I-93 widening to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission for a major study of traffic that will be created once the access road and Pettingill Road are completed and the area opens up to further development.

While Merrimack was not a recipient of those funds, it is cooperating in the study, the town having already done a lot of traffic study work related to the project.

Bedford has been poised for many years to take advantage of opportunities presented by the access road. South River Road is already zoned for performance zoning all the way to the Merrimack town line, and the town has formed an economic development committee to work to attract businesses to the area.

Merrimack likewise changed its zoning recently to create a mixed use overlay district for larger properties on Daniel Webster Highway up to the Bedford town line. There is a 150-acre parcel just south of the town line that could be developed to take advantage of the newly created access to the airport and Route 3.

Merrimack town officials said they hope to meet with Bedford officials to work cooperatively on establishing zoning districts that will allow for orderly development of land parcels that straddle the two towns, and they also will look to cooperate with other towns to compare notes on zoning rules.

Bedford and Merrimack are also following developments for a commuter rail line along the river that could include an airport stop in Bedford or Merrimack. If this were to happen, there could be further development near the stop in the form of transit-oriented development, something we have not yet seen in New Hampshire.

The Manchester Airport Authority also is planning an update of its own 10-year master plan. The authority, through the city, owns some large parcels in the airport area, and we may see proposals for projects like hotels and convention centers on airport land. All of this will be studied carefully and will include full public participation in the process.

Current development: Not surprisingly, there is little development currently going on in the airport area. One exception is the Falling Water office project on Kitty Hawk Landing in Londonderry, off Grenier Field Road in the northeast quadrant of the airport area.

When fully constructed, this will be a 120,000-square-foot Class A office and R & D campus with three buildings. All approvals are in place, and site work should begin soon. The owner plans to construct a 35,000-square-foot building as Phase 1 that should be ready for occupancy in late 2010.

Coincidentally, a 35,000-square-foot office project on the other side of Kitty Hawk Landing was recently approved by Londonderry, but there are no tenants in place and no firm plans to commence construction.

The developer of the park hopes to see further Class A development along the lines of Falling Water, and obtained the approval to help insure that such development takes place.

Dan Scanlon is a retail investment adviser with Grubb & Ellis|Coldstream Real Estate Advisors Inc., Bedford. He can be reached at 603-206-9605, or