Several blighted blocks of Manchester are about to get a major face lift.
The town announced a $100 million redevelopment plan for the former Broad Street Parkade. The 23-acre site has been sitting empty for nearly a decade. For several years before that, the businesses on those blocks stood vacant.
Debbie Keller, of Columbia, remembers buying her prom shoes in the old Manchester Parkade in the 70s.
“It was the place to go,” she recalled.
After the stores in the strip mall closed, the city purchased the property, clearing the way for new development. Still, it sat empty.
“That’s been vacant for a long, long time, very long,” said Anne Ficocelli of Manchester.
Fiococelli left for eight years and came back, but says nothing had changed along this strip of Broad Street.
“It’s terrible to see it still that way,” she added.
Now, the town thinks it has finally found a developer with a plan that will not only bring new investment to this space, but also boost the businesses that surround it.
“A lot of people would enjoy an alternative to the mall,” said Keller.
Manchester Parkade I, LLC, has a redevelopment plan that includes sustainably built market rate condos and apartments, office space, a microbrewery, a small community theater, a hotel, and a fitness center.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a destination, and that was really what the town has been working on for the past decade,” said developer Harry Freeman.
Manchester Parkade I, LLC estimates the development will take up 500,000- to 1 million-square feet. The residential and office space are expected to be finished first.
“We’re also working to attract a lot of new businesses to the area and we want them to have a space to come into as quickly as possible,” said Michael Licamele, Manchester Parkade I, LLC.
“This is a great milestone for the redevelopment of Broad Street and for the future of Manchester,” said Manchester Mayor Jay Moran. “There are many details to work out and still a long way to go, but we are optimistic that this partnership will result in a vibrant mixed-use district, additional economic activity, new jobs and additional tax revenue for the Town.”
Investors in the project will receive real estate tax breaks under the federal Opportunity Zone incentive program, as will the businesses that agree to locate there. Licamele said he still expects the town to see a million-dollars in tax revenues annually.
The town has tried unsuccessfully to redevelop the area before.
“There’s been a lot of issues that have come up on this property. Over time, there’s been legal issues that we’re just finalizing right now,” explained Gary Anderson, Manchester’s Planning and Economic Development Director.
“There were a couple of major impediments, one of what were a lot of easements on what could be developed on the property,” added Licamele.
He also believes the market has improved and said the Opportunity Zone program will help make this plan a success.
After years of sitting empty, people who frequent the area are happy to hear about the major makeover of the once blighted blocks, but have some concerns.
“I would hate to see the current businesses struggle because of new development,” said Heather Plourde, of Manchester.
She noted that the businesses in area are struggling.
Bobbi Hartling owns a home and lifestyle boutique nearby and admits that running a business in this part of town hasn’t always been easy. She hopes the new businesses cropping up with bring new customers through her door.
“I guess it really depends on what they put in there. If they’re putting in more small business like us, then I think it will be great,” said Hartling. “To be honest, it’s kind of been an eyesore for a long time and it will just make us all look better.”
One of the developers said proposal fits right into the plan Manchester has been working on to revitalize this area over the past decade.
“It will help because we’re going to bring in 500 to 600 people who will be living here and using the businesses that are right next door, we don’t want to recreate anything that’s already here, we really want to supplement it,” said Harry Freeman.
Anderson stated that redevelopment of Broad Street has been his number one priority.
“The more activity that’s happening here, we feel like, the more people that are in this area of town and Manchester, the better it is for all of the businesses,” said Anderson.
Licamele said he’s hoping for a ground breaking this fall or early next spring. He expects the first phase to be finished in late 2020 and the entire project to take two to three years.