Laconia officials raise concerns about developer ahead of Exec Council meeting
‘Serious questions’ seen about experience, ability to complete smaller projects
Additional concerns arose Tuesday about a Manchester woman with no large-scale property development experience who’s been chosen by the state to buy the former 220-acre Laconia State School and turn it into a massive housing and tourism campus.
The concerns come a day before the state Department of Administrative Services is to ask the Executive Council to approve a $21.5 million purchase and sale agreement with Robynne Alexander. The Bulletin reported Tuesday morning that Alexander has little development experience and is three years behind schedule on a much smaller project in Manchester. She is also being sued by an investor in that project, a 60,000-square-foot dilapidated building on Elm Street.
Alexander has offered the state $21.5 million and proposed investing $500 million or more developing 1,300 housing units, a 1,000-person conference room, hotel, and medical facilities on the property, which has so many problems the state was prepared to give it away for the right project.
Sean O’Connell, the lawyer representing the Elm Street project investor, said his client, Marie Ward, has not reached a settlement with Alexander, contrary to Alexander’s statement to the Bulletin on Monday that the case was essentially resolved. Alexander said in a court filing that she would pay Ward $250,000 by September 2022 but has not done so, O’Connell said.
“There have been discussions regarding settlement but there is no completed settlement and the case is moving forward,” O’Connell said.
And Tuesday afternoon, Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer and City Manager Kirk Beattie raised their own concerns in a letter to Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, whose district includes the city. They addressed aspects of the proposed purchase and sale agreement and Alexander’s limited experience with large-scale projects. Among the city’s worries is that a buyer will develop only the property’s prime real estate along Route 106 and abandon the rest, including the renovation and removal of nearly 30 dilapidated buildings.
“Serious questions have now arisen about the buyer’s … lack of experience in a project of this size and apparent inability to complete a much smaller project in the city of Manchester,” Hosmer and Beattie wrote, citing the Bulletin story. “Although the initial sale price represents a potential windfall for the state, please consider the long-term issues faced by the city of Laconia if the project is not completed in a timely manner. Again, the city of Laconia is excited about the potential of the proposed project, and we look forward to building a collaborative relationship with the buyers. But we are also aware of the many challenges associated with a project this size and wary of what might occur if the buyers cannot fulfill their obligation.”
Hosmer and Beattie also asked Kenney to raise their concerns about three items in the proposed purchase and sale agreement.
They’d like the document to more specifically state that the city has licenses to use the water tower and access part of the Laconia property adjacent to a city-owned baseball and soccer fields for parking. They also asked that both licenses be made permanent in the deed.
Hosmer and Beattie also want assurances that a cold weather shelter located in one of the buildings be allowed to continue until April 1, 2023, as planned.
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.