Development may pay for rail project

NASHUA – A complex made of 200 apartments, a mix of retail stores and offices constructed on 10 acres off of Daniel Webster Highway is an idea to pay the city’s $14 million share of the proposed commuter rail project.

The development, or a similar one, at the rail station would be designated as a tax increment finance district. Increased property taxes, estimated at more than $1 million, raised from the site would repay money borrowed to pay the city’s contribution to complete the project.

Community Development Director Kathy Hersh said idea is the last initiative her division can push on the project, with no other ideas in the wings.

The goal of introducing commuter rail here has been in jeopardy since the state gas tax was ruled out of bounds to pay the city’s contribution. Neither the city nor the state government have stepped forward since to shoulder the financial responsibility of the local contribution.

And time is running out. Delays have already cost about $4 million of federal transportation money.

The project could be out of reach if an effort is not made to move forward, said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

“We believe the city needs to make this commitment to commuter rail now,” he said.

Other transportation demands are putting pressure to get the dollars already set aside for the rail project, said Williams. People see the possibility of redirecting rail project money to pay for the expansion of Interstate 93.

City leaders, the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, and consultants showed the plan to aldermen Wednesday.

The commuter rail plan is to connect Nashua with Boston by extending the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter train from Lowell, Mass. It is estimated to cost $70.1 million. Around $24 million has been allocated from the federal government. The city needs to match 20 percent of the total cost, an estimated $14 million, to tap into the federal funds.

Seven aldermen have endorsed the resolution, along with Mayor Bernie Streeter.

Ward 8 Alderman David MacLaughlin said the rail project has a lot of support from future neighbors, from Alderman-at-Large Jim Tollner endorsed the legislation. However, he said the fund-raising idea is a big commitment and city leaders should proceed cautiously and receive feedback from residents.

Others were less supportive. Alderman-at-Large Paula Johnson said she would like to see guarantees of financial support so city taxpayers do not have to pay for the project if the development goes sour.

Aldermen have to consider whether to support the plan and its TIF district. The next step is for the aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee to vote on the resolution. Its meeting is mid-November.

The goal is to use the development complex as a tool to raise the millions of dollars of the city’s match. It would be the second special tax district in the city, if the aldermen back the idea. The first TIF was valued around $1 million for a boardwalk along the Nashua River as part of an economic revitalization effort around Railroad Square.

Public coffers do not receive less money because of the TIF designation. The TIF system works by freezing the taxes in its district. All increased taxes above the set amount then pay for the new amenities in the district.

The conceptual plan presented Wednesday includes a three-tier 2,300 space parking garage and 150 apartments. Retail stores would be built on top of the garage, putting them at level with Daniel Webster Highway. The plan also called for 100,000 square feet for office space.

The proposed rail station site and complex would be constructed at the end of East Spit Brook Road.