'Mini-Pease' possible in Laconia?

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11 20 George Bald bus tour

George Bald, chairman of the state commission planning for the redevelopment of the old State School property in Laconia, gives fellow commissioners a tour of the Pease International Tradeport Monday. He had a lead role in transforming an old Air Force base into a sprawling commercial-industrial development in Portsmouth. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)

Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission gets tour of sprawling business center in Portsmouth

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

PORTSMOUTH — Commissioners charged with turning the former State School property in Laconia into a jobs generator took a bus tour Monday of the Pease International Tradeport, a former Air Force base where 250 companies now employ 10,250 people.
George Bald, who was a key player in the Pease Development Authority and now heads a panel looking into the Laconia property, pointed out the highlights.
He later expressed confidence that a version of this kind of business success can happen again.
“I think a ‘mini-Pease,’ if you will, can be created, where it’s a location where people have great job opportunities and it contributes to the economy of Laconia and the state,” said Bald, chairman of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission.
The commission is examining potential public-private partnerships for the former State School property, which takes in more than 200 acres, bounded by North Main Street and Meredith Center Road. The property has dramatic views of mountains and water and is next to Ahern State Park, which includes 3,500 linear feet of waterfront property on Lake Winnisquam.
One difference between that property – once home to an institution for the developmentally disabled – and the former Air Force base is the aeronautical infrastructure that was already present at Pease, which also has the advantage of a nearby interstate highway.
“Certainly, the access here is better than it is in Laconia,” Bald said. “But at the same time, even though we don’t have an aeronautical situation in Laconia, I don’t see that as a detriment.
“There is an airport in Laconia, so you do have the benefit of having an airport nearby.”
The transformation of an Air Force base into a business center, which now has 4.4 million square feet of commercial/industrial space, was a long process.
“It was an overnight success that took 25 years,” Bald said.
Similarly, those interested in the Laconia property should have patience, he said. But he also added that big properties tend to get developed in increments, with some pieces coming together over a much shorter time frame.
“But, when you have a dogged determination to stay with it and keep at the plan, good things will occur as a result,” he said.
Environmental contamination had to be addressed in the planning at Pease, and it is of concern for the Laconia property as well.
Keith DuBois, assistant director of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, presented a report to the commission Monday detailing $620,900 worth of costs that would be associated with just assessing environmental concerns at the former State School property.
For example, concerns around that property’s former garage could cost $51,000 to assess.
He listed as a concern “documented, observed, alleged and potential unknown (surface) disposal and landfilling of waste materials including, but not limited to, containers of pesticides, solid waste, asbestos-containing materials, bulk storage tanks, tires and auto parts, and coal materials.”
Also, it would cost $262,500 to assess all 31 buildings for hazardous materials.
The cost of actually fixing problems that are identified was not estimated and could vary widely. For example, there would be one cost for tearing down a building containing some of these materials, and another cost for preserving the building for future use.
DuBois also said federal money potentially could be available to cover some of these costs.
Also, it wouldn’t be necessary to assess and clean up the entire site before proceeding. Instead, areas within the property where there are fewer environmental concerns could be targeted as the first ones to be developed.
In any case, until a plan is developed to identify potential best uses of the property, it would be premature to settle on an environmental cleanup plan.
The panel has yet to draw up a request for proposals from consultants who could write a strategic plan for the property.
Ball said that, in any case, the development needs to have a specific focus.
“This has to be a creator of good jobs,” he said.
At one point in the Pease development, there was a suggestion that a mall could be built.
“The board had to say, ‘No,’ and it was controversial,” he said.
The next meeting was set for Dec. 11 in Laconia.