LACONIA — The Laconia Area Community Land Trust yesterday celebrated what Jason Hicks, president of the board of directors, called it "crowning achievement," with a ribbon cutting and open house at River's Edge, the permanently affordable downtown apartment building on the bank of the Winnipesaukee River.
More than 60 people, city officials and civic leaders, filled the conference room at River's Edge for the ceremony.
River's Edge includes 32 fully accessible apartments, 12 one-bedroom and 20 two-bedroom units, leased at permanently affordable rents. Moreover, the building will house a day care facility for infants aged between six weeks and 18 months operated by Lakes Region Childcare Services on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. until 5 :30 p.m. in the building.
The three-story building overlooks the river just above the Avery Dam, offering views of the two most venerable landmarks in the city — City Hall and the Busiel Mill — and enjoys 700 feet of riverbank lined by a stretch of the downtown river walk.
River's Edge displaces a commercial building last occupied by the F.W.Webb Company, a wholesaler of plumbing and hearing supplies.
Mayor Ed Engler noted that after the a private developer abandoned plans to redevelop the site, the Planning Department turned to the Laconia Area Community Land Trust. In 2004 the trust developed Millview, an apartment complex of 18 units, on another vacant industrial property, removing tons of contaminated soil in the process. At River's Edge, Engler said, 300 tons of contaminated soil posing a threat to the river was excavated and removed.
For 20 years, Engler said, the trust has been a "valuable partner of the city" and compiled "a glorious history of turning something that wasn't into something that is."
Dean Christon, executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, described River's Edge as "a special project" that not only added to the stock of affordable housing but also repurposed a vacant space. He said that because of the site, on a steep slope, laden with ledge and beset by environmental issues, "this has been a very challenging project that required creativity and tenacity."
Paul Weech, chief executive officer of NeighborWorks America, a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation that supports 247 organizations like the Laconia Area Community Land Trust throughout the country, said simply that the trust "stands out among the 247."
The most moving tribute to the trust was paid by Erin Weller, a single mother seeking a home who entered its transitional housing program then rented an apartment. She recalled that with the financial literacy and homebuyer education programs offered by the trust, she overcame her financial troubles, purchased a care and is about to buy a home. "My daughter is an amazing little girl," she said, "because we have a place to call home."
Linda Harvey, executive director of Laconia Area Community Land Trust, honored the late George Hickey of Sanbornton, the architect who designed River's Edge, along with many of the other projects. Hickey passed away suddenly in February, 2015, before what he designed with pen and paper was turned to brick and mortar.
Since the Lacona Area Community Land Trust began 20 years ago it has developed 277 affordable rental apartments, invested more than $68 million and paid nearly $3 million in property taxes in the Lakes Region.
CAPTION: Jason Hicks, president of the Board of Directors of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, cutting the ribbon at River's Edge on Friday. From left are Ryan Barton of Mainstay Tehnologies, vice-president of the trust; Andy Saavedra of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation; Land Trust board chair Jason Hicks; Mayor Ed Engler; Dean Christon, executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority; Hunter Taylor, Belknap County Commissioner; Paul Weech, chief executive officer of NeighborWorks America; and Erin Weller, a tenant and director of the Land Trust.