LACONIA — A seven-member board would be given the power to direct the redevelopment of the old Laconia State School complex, including the subdivision of the property, and the sale of land and building to private parties, under a bill unveiled this week in the state Legislature.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Chuck Morse, would create an entity called the Lakes Region Development Authority to oversee the “expeditious and proper redevelopment” of the 235-acre property, which for many years was the site of the state institution for the developmentally disabled, and more recently a state prison.
The authority would replace the current Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission, which was created by the Legislature in 2017 for the purpose of finding uses for the property that would create jobs and generate tax revenue.
If Morse’s bill passes, the work of redeveloping the property would transition from the Lakeshore commission to the new authority, Morse said.
In addition to Morse, other sponsors of the bill include state Sen. Harold French, whose district includes Laconia, and state Reps. Peter Spanos and Charlie St. Clair, both of Laconia.
Under the language contained in the bill, the authority would have the power to accept and apply for grants, borrow money, invest funds, and apply for licenses and permits, all geared toward redeveloping the property. In addition, the authority would be able to enter into contracts, and ultimately sell property to private buyers — none of which the commission is authorized to do.
“This bill creates a new entity, with the authority to act quickly,” George Bald, chairman of the Lakeshore Commission said Wednesday.
The Morse bill would work in tandem with a bill being sponsored by Spanos, which would provide $1.7 million in funding for the commission from this July until June 2022.
“Both bills need to pass,” Bald said.
Morse’s bill contains no money to operate the authority. However, it gives the authority the right to issue bonds, which would fund the redevelopment. Under that bill, the Executive Council could guarantee the bonds for up to $10 million, plus interest.
The funding in the Spanos bill would enable the authority to operate effectively in its early months, said Morse, R-Salem.
“It implements what’s in my bill,” he said.
A hearing on Spanos’s bill is scheduled for next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building. The hearing on Morse’s bill is set to take place the following day at 9:30 a.m., also in the LOB.
Morse explained that, for eight or nine years, he has been involved in efforts for the state to dispose of the property. The idea of creating an authority originated about three years ago after the state was unable to attract any buyers for the property, he said.
Morse’s bill is modeled after the legislation passed in the early 1990s which created the authority to redevelop the former Pease Air Force Base in Newington.
“We are building off the Pease concept. That’s the most important thing in the bill,” Morse said.
Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer said Wednesday he was “very supportive” of Morse’s bill. He said that he had spoken with Bald and Robert Cheney, the vice chairman of the Lakeshore Commission, about the legislation. He said he planned to talk with Morse as well.
Hosmer said efforts to redevelop the old State School property were “long overdue,” and said that it is imperative that the city be an “active participant in the process” of finding private developers to invest in the project.
Before any in-depth marketing of the project can take place, Bald said commission or authority will need to acquire grants which can be used to rebuild the infrastructure — notably water and sewer — on the complex.
Bald said it was in the best interest in the of the state – as well as the city and Belknap County – to create the development authority. He noted that the state currently is spending $400,000 a year just to maintain the property.
The bill in its present form calls for the Lakes Region Development Authority to go out of existence in 2026.
Bald said an extension of the authority operation would probably be necessary. But he said much of the work for redeveloping the property would be well underway by the 2026 deadline. He stressed that the authority’s main goal is to develop the property in a way that will create jobs and economic vitality in the Lakes Region, and will put more property on the Laconia tax rolls. Once all or most of the property is in private hands, the authority would go out of existence, he said.
The bill calls for the authority to be run by a seven-member board, with two members appointed by the Executive Council, two appointed by Laconia’s mayor and City Council, one appointed by the president of the state Senate, one by the speaker of the House, and one appointed by a majority vote of the state House members from Belknap County, plus the state senator who represents Laconia.
The authority’s board would be able to name an executive director who would be in charge of the authority’s day-to-day operations.