Hathaway report pessimistic but Heritage group not giving up

LACONIA — A report on the future of the Hathaway House prepared by Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation and Steve Bedard of Bedard Preservation of Gilmanton concludes that "In our estimation, savings this building by moving it to a new location and investing more than half a million dollars in its rehabilitation is not a viable proposition at this time."

Nevertheless, after reading the report at its meeting yesterday, the Heritage Commission agreed to pursue a private developer or investor willing to acquire, move and renovate the Italianate home, which was built in 1872 by Samuel Clark, a prominent lawyer. "I'm not willing to give up looking for a developer," declared Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, "and Charlie (St. Clair) certainly isn't."

Stier and Bedard estimated the cost of moving and renovating the building would fall between $563,400 and $751,200, adding "our estimate for a building of this age, type and condition would be at the higher end of that range." The estimates exclude the cost of a new lot for the building.

In September, Cafua Management Company, which purchased the property in 2000, applied for a permit to demolish the Hathaway House, lending urgency to the effort to preserve it. After meeting with Greg Nolan of Cafua, to discuss alternatives to demolition Clark recently acknowledged that if the building was to be preserved, it would have to relocated. The entrance to the Dunkin' Donuts outlet next door runs within 10 feet of the front door of the Hathaway House, effectively foreclosing prospects to convert the building to a either a residential or commercial use at its current location.
Last month Stier and Bedard visited the property where they found the exterior in poor condition but the finishes and features inside in sound condition and the floor plan largely unaltered. Because the building is not of post-and-beam construction, it is not feasible to take it apart and reassemble it on another site. But, it could be moved. Bedard noted that a building of comparable size was moved about a mile along Route 4 in Epsom at a cost of $80,000, much of applied to lowering utility lines.
Stier and Bedard noted that there is a half-acre building lot nearby at 903 Union Avenue, amid other homes dating from late 19th and early 20th centuries. The property is owned by attorney Phil Brouillard, who has approached the Heritage Commission. The lot is assessed as residential land at $39,100 and listed at $199,000, though Brouillard indicated that he is "willing to negotiate."
They anticipated that renovating the building would require a new foundation and replacing or repairing the sills. New electrical and HVAC systems would be required, along with bathroom facilities. Missing windows and storms would have to be replaced. Carpets would be removed and floors refinished. Walls and ceilings need repair. The building would need to be repainted inside and out and exterior trim would require replacement or repair.

Finally, to qualify for a commercial use, the building must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They estimated the cost of renovation at between $150 and $200 per square foot.
Stier and Bedard note that the cost of moving and renovating the Hathaway House far exceeds the value of similar buildings in the city. For example, a similar building downtown housing professional offices is currently listed for $299,900. Furthermore, they presume that the remaining historic buildings along Union Avenue are all at risk. They observe that the center of Lakeport is dotted with empty storefronts and doubt that "a rehabilitation of the high-style Hathaway House would be a catalyst for additional residential or professional office usage in this location."
"The Hathaway House," Stier and Bedard consider "a very large and risky project." The find that a non-profit organization would be "hard-pressed to justify taking on such a large, capital -intensive project" while a private investor would be dissuaded by "the gap between rehab costs and actual or future real estate value. In our estimation," they remark, "the numbers simply don't add up."
"Be practical and realistic," they suggest. "Recognize that not everything can be saved."
Instead, Stier and Bedard recommend taking steps to salvage some components, record the history and document the condition of the Hathway House while commemorating it with a marker at the site or a display of photographs, perhaps at the Dunkin Donuts outlet. They also offer a number of suggestions for fostering support and marshaling resources to preserve other historic resources, including compiling a fund to acquire threatened properties and providing incentives for private investment in historic buildings.
Although Cafua will complete its application for a demolition permit, Clark said that Nolan agreed to "provide a reasonable window of opportunity to explore the possibility of relocating the building. He said that at this time the company had no specific plans for the property." Clark said that Nolan assured her that "there is no imminent time frame for demolition" and should the company decide to pursue that course the commission would be given sufficient notice to salvage what it can from the building.
The commission voted unanimously not to sign the demolition permit, which Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that she intends to issue. She told the commission that by not signing it "you are making a statement."
Clark told the commission that Sarah Anderson of Gilford, who has been in the forefront of the preservation effort and questions the estimates in the report, has been doing "due diligence" and speaking with building movers and contractors in search of more accurate estimates.
Meanwhile, Clark said that since Nolan indicated the commission would be allowed time to explore relocating the building, she intends to seek a developer or investor. She said that she will approach city officials for funding to place an advertisement or request for proposals in the national media as well as consider listing the Hathaway House on the real estate market at the suggestion of Rickey Persons, who attended the meeting at her invitation.

"Moving the building is still on the table as far as I'm concerned," she said.