LACONIA — A move for the state to hire a major commercial real estate broker to market the Laconia State School property was tabled by the Executive Council Wednesday hours after the mayor and City Council insisted the city have some input into the process.
The Executive Council was being asked to approve a contract with commercial real estate services company CBRE to provide real estate consulting, marketing, and brokerage services leading to the sale of the largely vacant complex which for decades was the state’s institution for people with developmental disabilities. After the facility closed in 1993, a part of the complex was converted into a state prison which closed in 2009.
The motion to table action on the contract was made by Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington and was seconded by fellow Councilor Joe Kenney, according to Mayor Andrew Hosmer.
Hosmer and the council objected to the CBRE contract proposed by the state Department of Administrative Services because it gave the city no opportunity to give input on what strategy the firm would use to find potential buyers for the property which consists of about 250 acres and 27 buildings.
For three years a seven-member volunteer panel has worked to prepare the property so it could be offered for sale to a private developer. But earlier this year Gov. Chris Sununu short-circuited that process by putting a rider into the state budget to engage a real estate firm to find someone willing to buy the property as-is “with all its faults.”
“We don’t want the state just looking at the highest dollar offer, but an offer that will result in the highest and best use of the property,” Hosmer said after he learned the CBRE contract had been tabled.
On Tuesday Hosmer told the council the contract was not in the city’s best interest because it does not call for the broker “to work cooperatively with the city.”
In a letter he had drafted to Kenney, whose district includes Laconia, and which he shared with the City Council, Hosmer said while he had no reservations about CBRE, he did object to the process the governor was taking to sell the land “post haste,” and pleaded with Kenney to oppose the contract.
However, two councilors urged Hosmer to instead ask that action on the contract be tabled. City Councilors Bruce Cheney and Henry Lipman said there was a much better chance of getting the matter tabled as opposed to having it defeated outright. They said the postponement would give time for Kenney to work with other executive councilors in the hope of getting language added to the contract that would give the city more confidence in the process.
“We’re hoping to get an addendum to the contract that will bring the city into the fold as a very important partner” in the process, Hosmer said Wednesday.
Hosmer added he had talked with Kenney about the objections he and the council have with the contract and the governor’s effort to sell the property as quickly as possible. He described his conversation with Kenney as “generally favorable.”
Kenney along with Redevelopment Planning Commission Chair George Bald met with the City Council in August. At that meeting Kenney said if he felt a prospective sale was in the city’s best interest he would lobby other executive councilors to support it, but would also lobby against any deal which would not benefit the city.
Hosmer said he hoped that between now and whenever the Executive Council takes up the CBRE contract again that there will be discussions that might include Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus, and state Sen. Harold French whose district includes Laconia.
Hosmer told the council that last week he toured the property with Bald and Warmington, who made the motion to table the contract. He said he was grateful for the interest shown by Warmington though her district does not include Laconia.
He said he appreciated what Warmington and Kenney did to put off action on the CBRE contract to give the city more time to explain its position.
The said what the city ultimately wants is to see the property to be sold to a developer who is committed to a comprehensive development plan for the entire parcel, and not just to develop the land that directly fronts on North Main Street (Route 106).