Council votes 3-2 to move ahead with controversial sale of former Laconia State School

Buyer has proposed a $500M mixed-use development on the 220-acre site, but concerns remain
Executive Countil Vote Laconia State School
Executive councilors voted 3-2 to sell the former Laconia State School Wednesday after Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus answered their questions. (Photo by Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin)

In a 3-2 vote, the Executive Council approved a controversial $21.5 million purchase and sale agreement for the former Laconia State School property Wednesday. The buyer, Manchester real estate developer Robynne Alexander, has limited large-scale development experience and a history of being behind on her Manchester property taxes.

Alexander has proposed a $500 million mixed-use development, called Legacy at Laconia, on the 220-acre site, which abuts Ahern State Park and Laconia city recreation fields and overlooks lakes Winnisquam and Opechee. The state has tried to sell the property for years.

Alexander’s spokesman, Scott Tranchemontagne, said this week that Alexander and her team have lined up construction and engineering firms that have experience with multi-million dollar projects. However, neither he nor the state knew that Alexander’s business partner, Jonathan McCoy, lost a senior living facility he co-owned in a 2017 bankruptcy and paid $11,000 to settle claims he had misappropriated more than $230,000 in business funds, according to court records.

McCoy told the Bulletin Monday the allegations were untrue and not proven.

Republican Councilors David Wheeler, of Milford, and Ted Gatsas, of Manchester, voted against the deal with Alexander.

Gatsas cited concerns about Alexanders’ and McCoy’s financial history and said he’s skeptical Alexander will deliver the $21.5 million she has offered. Gatsas also noted that he had not received information he’d requested about Alexander’s financial status from the state Department of Administrative Services. Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus said the state does not have that information.

“I am certainly going to vote against this because I certainly believe in my heart, having been in the real estate investment business for some 30 years, that we’re going to see this project back,” Gatsas said.

Under the terms of the purchase and sale agreement, Alexander is required have the money and complete the purchase and sale no later than Sept. 2, 2023, according to a document from the Department of Administrative Services. Tranchemontagne said the team has between $100 million and $150 million in “soft commitments” from people who have expressed interest in the project and investing in it.

“Legacy at Laconia is honored to be selected to redevelop this important property and grateful for the governor and Executive Council’s support. Our focus now is to roll up our sleeves and raise the funds to close this transaction,” Tranchemontagne said in an email following the vote.

“We are confident we will succeed. In addition, we will continue to communicate proactively with Laconia. Legacy believes our mixed-use proposal will help address the Lakes Region’s desperate need for housing at all levels, including senior living, while reinvigorating the site with a world-class, barrier-free resort, new restaurants and shops, and lots of recreation and open space. From years of discussion with Laconia leaders, we believe our proposal is what they want.”

The council tabled the purchase and sale agreement at a meeting in early December after Laconia city officials raised concerns about aspects of the agreement and what they had read in the Bulletin about Alexander’s financial and professional background.

The city uses a portion of the site for parking at its fields and relies on the water tower to irrigate those fields. Hosmer said Wednesday that Alexander and team members assured city officials following the last council meeting that this arrangement could continue under their ownership.

Hosmer said city officials have learned more about the team’s timeline for developing the site and how it would be financed. “There are some variables, and changes could come,” he said, “but we feel better.”

Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat, noted the concerns that have been raised about Alexander and asked that the state Department of Natural and Cultural resources be involved in the development since the property abuts a state park. After voting to table the agreement two weeks ago, Warmington voted for it Wednesday, citing Laconia support for it.

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NH Business Review and other outlets to republish its reporting.

Categories: News, Real Estate & Construction