Historic District Commission approves redesign of Portsmouth mall

6/21/2007


By: Michael Goot
Date: Thursday, Jun 21, 2007
Publication: Foster's Daily Democrat

PORTSMOUTH

A project that will change the face of the northern tier cleared a major hurdle Wednesday night as the Historic District Commission approved the design for the redevelopment of the Parade Mall site.

The existing one-story office building would be razed and in its place would be four multistory buildings containing a 147-room hotel, 28 residential condominiums, 150,000-square-feet of office space and 70,000-square-feet of retail space at the existing Parade Office site bordered by Hanover, Maplewood and Deer streets.

"We're absolutely thrilled with the outcome," said Jeff Johnston, principal for developer Cathartes Private Investments.

That next step is site review approval by the Technical Advisory Committee and Planning Board. The development team has already had several meetings with city planning staff.

Actual construction would not start until the middle of next year because the office's existing tenants have leases that end in 2008, Johnston said. "Our goal is to get the permits this summer to give tenants ample time to find new space," he said.

The construction process would take 18-20 months, he said.

The project would create a new city street in the middle of the site, which the developers are calling the Broad walk with sidewalks ranging in width of 12 to 20 feet to accommodate passengers to the restaurants and retail shops. There would also be parallel on-street parking.

The buildings will be a mix of brick, masonry and a synthetic masonry-like material.

The facility would also have an underground parking garage with nearly 300 spaces.

A half-dozen speakers including Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce President Dick Ingram testified in support of the project to replace what he called a "monolith."

"I have no doubt that as you work through this process, you will end up with something that will really be a gem. I am personally excited about the chance to develop the sense of streetscape and flow," he said.

Dick DeChard, president of the Portsmouth Advocates - a historical preservation group - said the scale seemed appropriate. "Our minds can visualize this project fitting in comfortably with the neighbors on The Hill and downtown a block away. We can imagine new Parade Mall with a neighborhood in itself with its own distinctive character," he said.

Don Pederson, who was representing HarborCorp LLC-the developer of the Westin Hotel and conference center- expressed concern about the traffic flow and vehicles making left turns from Deer Street onto the new Broad way, which will be across from the new parking garage.

The commission noted that issue and said it would be considered in the site review. It voted 5-2 in favor of the project.

"This is an exciting project. It's creating a neighborhood, so to speak. I'm impressed by the quality of materials, the time that was spent trying to integrate these buildings into the site," said commission member Richard Katz.

Commission member David Adams said he is concerned that the scale seems to be too large.

Johnston said previously the project would generate 800 new jobs, including 600 in the offices. The development would generate more than $700,000 in taxes not including the potential spinoff economic benefits with the restaurant and retail activity downtown.

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