Condos may be built, after all

NASHUA – In 2006, downtown was starting to look like an attractive place to live.

City officials were looking to add more housing in Nashua’s urban core and some developers were responding accordingly.

So it was no surprise city leaders were pleased by the news that developer John Stabile wanted to purchase and demolish two unused buildings owned previously by Nashua Corp. on Front Street and replace them with as many as 162 condos.

Stabile called that project Cotton Mill Square and won the city’s approval.

Fast-forward to the present and the buildings are still vacant, the real estate market is struggling and developers like Stabile have had to temper their plans. Yet, despite the sagging economy there is still hope.

Stabile said he has agreed to sell a 5.25-acre parcel along the north bank of the Nashua River across from Clocktower Place to another development firm that plans to build a major condominium complex on the site.

Stable said he could not reveal the name of the firm he sold the property to because of a confidentiality agreement that is in place.

People close to the deal said the name of the firm will be disclosed in two weeks.

The new plans for the condo project call for preserving a historic cotton storage building that Stabile planned to destroy because it was structurally unsound, he said.

Under the new plan, Stabile said, the cotton storage building would be renovated and possibly placed on the National Registry of Historical Places.

“I wish I could tell you more, but I’m limited in what I can say because I don’t want to violate the confidentiality agreement,” Stabile said.

Planning Director Roger Houston said only “very informal discussions” have taken place in City Hall about the new developer’s plans.

“Until we have was an application in front of us, it’s all just talk,” Houston said.

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Economic Development Director Thomas Galligani said he didn’t know the details of the new developer’s plans, but he was pleased that the project seems to moving forward again.

“Any sort of movement on a project that has been stalled has to be viewed positively,” Galligani said.

He added that he was happy to hear the new developers planned to renovate and preserve the historic cotton storehouse.

“That could become a real anchor for the whole millyard district,” he said.

Others with knowledge of the project said with the exception of the storehouse the new developer will follow the plan Stabile had approved by the planning board two years ago fairly closely.

Stabile had planned to construct three five-story multi-family buildings on the site. He intended to start out slow by constructing one 40-unit condo building. If those units sold he’d build a second, then a third, he said at time.

It’s possible that an old cotton transfer bridge across the river that the city spent $1.2 million in federal and local funds restoring could be tied into the project, Houston said.

A 10,000-sqaure-foot office building with an elevator was part of the Stabile project, and it’s likely to be a part of the new developer’s concept as well, people with knowledge of the plans said.

That elevator and a stairway would get pedestrians and bicyclists from the bridge, which is about 16 feet above river level, back to ground level so they could use a riverfront walkway the city still plans to build if it can find the money, officials said.

It’s likely that a percentage of the condos built would to go Southern New Hampshire Services to provide affordable housing. Before her election, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau served as director of development for the nonprofit agency and participated in discussions with the planning board about the project.

In another riverfront matter, development lawyer Gerald Prunier said a firm called Harper Nashua won’t be building condos or retail space on property it purchased from the Grace Fellowship Church on Franklin and Front streets because of financial difficulties. The firm has returned the deeds to those properties to its bankers to avoid foreclosure, Prunier said.

Asked if another developer might take over the Harper project, Prunier said, “That’s what everybody hopes.”