State School

A 10.4-acre field at Route 106 and Old North Main Street  is owned by the state and held by the city of Laconia under a 99-year lease. A land swap under discussion would give the city more parking for the Robbie Mills Sports Complex in exchange for making the field, which already has water and sewer service, part of the State School property development. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — For two years, a state panel has considered the best way to turn 200 acres of state-owned land into something that would create jobs, boost the tax base and be an asset to the community.

The Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission and its consultants came up with a dream of a regional sports center, a hotel, housing, commercial businesses and a wellness center.

Soon, it will be up to the New Hampshire Legislature to decide whether to provide millions of dollars to make that dream a reality.

Commission members decided Tuesday to seek legislation that would help finance a portion of the $12 million worth of roads, water service and other infrastructure necessary to make the land suitable for the first two phases of development. Some of that investment would be matched by grants.

“The goal will be to put together a package of grants and matching grant money from the state to fund this $11 million to $12 million in infrastructure,” Commissioner Robert Cheney said after the meeting.

Also to be considered by the Legislature will be a proposal to end the commission in favor of a new organization, the Lakes Region Development Authority, that would eventually transfer the property into private ownership so that it could be developed. Revenue from those transactions could help defray the state’s investment.

The commission also approved for legislative consideration a draft master plan for the land at Meredith Center Road and North Main Street, once home to the Laconia State School for those with developmental disabilities. That property is now largely vacant.

The draft master plan notes that several potential uses – such as industrial and large retail – were eliminated as lacking market viability, being impractical due to topography and traffic concerns, and presenting competition for existing uses in the area.

A strategic planning effort identified positive economic benefits associated with housing, sports and hospitality.

One element of the draft plan that drew discussion at Tuesday's meeting involved a 10.4-acre triangle-shaped field east of Route 106 at its intersection with Old North Main Street, which is owned by the state and held by the city of Laconia under a 99-year lease.

The plan states that conversations between the city and the state envision a land swap under which the city would gain access to an area for overflow parking for the Robbie Mills field, while the 10.4 acres would become part of the State School property development.

The land and another nearby parcel just west of Route 106 already have access to sewer and water service, making this area easier for development that could jump start the entire project.

Laconia City Councilor Bruce Cheney, who attended the meeting, briefly addressed the panel and suggested the swap might not be a good deal for the city and amounted to trading a parking lot for what was being described as some of the most valuable acreage in the area.

Commissioner Robert Cheney explained why the land swap might make sense.

“It seems like a natural progression to take and develop that parcel as part of the overall development connecting the neighborhoods that extend north of downtown up to the Lakes Region facility,” Commissioner Robert Cheney said.

He noted that development of a parcel that already has infrastructure could generate revenue to help match grants to pay for roads and utilities on acreage without these developmental necessities.

“Once you get that backbone infrastructure in there, then I think we’re really in business in terms of trying to implement the plan,” he said.

The draft plan calls for creating a controlled intersection at Route 106 and Old North Main Street.

“Small retail and commercial development here would anchor the entrance to the site with services needed by residents and those traveling along Route 106,” the plan states. “Development would be placed to preserve views to the restored farm buildings with open fields for seasonal events and parking.”

The plan also calls for preservation of several historic buildings for reuse.

“Several of the older dormitory buildings were built around a central green in the early years of school development,” it states. “This green, and the existing trees would be preserved as a park for residents and a focal point for site interpretation.”

Under the plan, residential will be the single largest use by area on the site. This fits in with economic development goals because adequate housing would boost workforce development, consultants say. The idea is that companies would be more likely to expand or move to the region if there were more places to house new employees.

“A combination of single family homes, duplexes, townhouses and apartments will provide diversity in living and affordability for young families, moderate income residents and elderly looking for a walkable neighborhood with nearby parks and services,” the plan states.

Key elements of the draft plan include:

— A 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot regional sports center to be used for indoor courts and recreational uses. The goal would be to attract tournaments that would also bring families to the area and boost tourism businesses.

— A 40,000- to 100,000-square-foot wellness facility for clinical and specialty care as well as other provider services. Such a facility would include higher-paying jobs.

— A 150-room resort style or boutique hotel, preferably in historic buildings on the former State School site.

— A residential component of 75 single and duplex homes, 150 middle-income starter homes, 120 market rate apartments or townhouses. Planners say more housing could attract more workers at a time when businesses are having difficulty filling open positions or expanding.

— A commercial component of 10,000 square feet of retail, a 5,000- to 7,500-square-foot restaurant and 7,500 to 15,000 square feet of commercial office space.

— A community space for training and classes.

— Protected open space (amount to be determined).

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