PORTSMOUTH – A city committee held a non-public Zoom meeting with federal officials to discuss the city’s new plan to redevelop the Thomas J. McIntyre Federal Building.
The public was not allowed to see or attend the Wednesday afternoon meeting between subcommittee members McIntyre and Dennis Montagna of the National Park Service.
It was the first time that members of the subcommittee had met with federal officials to discuss the city’s new redevelopment plan for the property that Portsmouth has been striving for decades to get from the federal government.
City Councilor Peter Whelan, who chairs the subcommittee, released a brief statement through the city spokesperson after the meeting.
The city also released its “Preliminary Architectural Plan for the Preservation and Revitalization of the Thomas J. McIntyre Federal Building,” which it submitted to the National Park Service (NPS).
The submission described the Market Shed or City Pavilion approach, as it was called, which was developed by Principle Group, the city’s consultants on the project, after a series of public consultation sessions.
The redevelopment project, according to the bid, will include “commercial, commercial, residential and public spaces”.
The proposal includes a ‘public observation deck’, a ‘winter garden’ area and a covered ‘market hall’.
Whelan said in the prepared statement that the subcommittee “presented the draft citizens’ community plan, which has not changed since its approval by city council on May 4, 2021, and has obtained valuable feedback from the National Park. Service”.
“This is the start of a collaborative process to come up with a plan that meets National Park Service (NPS) standards.”
The NPS must approve the city’s new redevelopment plan before it can move forward.
A long story
Portsmouth has been trying for years to gain control of the ownership of the federal building from the General Services Administration, which owns it.
More recently, the city has made efforts to acquire the property for free as part of the Historic Monuments Program, which the NPS administers.
A previous city council voted to approve developer Redgate-Kane’s redevelopment plan in 2019, which included renovating the existing McIntyre building for offices and adding two new mixed-use residential buildings to the 2.1 site. acres.
This city council rejected a land lease project with Redgate-Kane, leading the developers, the city’s official development partners, to file a complaint against the city in March 2020. This lawsuit was suspended in April 2020.
The new city map
Portsmouth’s preliminary submission to the NPS says the existing McIntyre building will be rehabilitated with “an emphasis on conserving historic materials and spaces as well as repairing the damaged and failing cornice and columns at the main entrance.
“New retail spaces will be created at the rear of the ground floor with the loading dock providing outdoor dining space overlooking the new indoor public market,” the city said in its submission. “A new retail opening will be created opposite Penhallow Street. near the loading docks.
The new plan also provides for the creation of a “space for public use all year round”, adding a “new passage from rue Daniel to the rear of the building, which will be created called a winter garden”, according to the city’s NPS submission.
“This linear space will provide a direct connection from rue Daniel to the public market at the center of the site,” the city said.
Addition above the old post office
The city’s bid also describes in detail what is proposed as a “three-story addition” to what was previously the post office wing of the McIntyre Building.
The addition has been a point of contention as it is unclear whether the NPS will allow the city to build on the post office wing. NPS did not approve Redgate / Kane’s original plan to build an addition above the post office.
The addition aims to facilitate “pedestrian connectivity between the proposed new and existing structure and increase activity across the site,” says the city’s proposal. “It is important to note that this will also increase the financial viability of the project.”
The plan, as explained in the submission, also states that a “new 2.5 storey building will be constructed along Bow Street, curving around the east side of the site to connect with the new construction on the section. storey of the McIntyre building. . “
Public observation platform
“The new construction will join the existing building in a ground floor entrance hall that will lead to the fourth floor public observation deck, offering rooftop access and views of the Piscataqua River for the enjoyment of the community, ”the city said.
The much-discussed “indoor market hall” will be located between the Bow Street building and the rear of the main building.
“The Market Hall is designed so that the view of St. John’s Church is visible from the traditional view shed, when looking west from the intersection of Market and Bow Streets, in across from Penhallow Street. ”
“Spectators” in the redevelopment process
Michael Kane, president and CEO of The Kane Company, said earlier this week that Redgate / Kane have become “spectators” in the redevelopment process.
Redgate / Kane executives also wrote an opinion piece in which they say that “the new city council has reneged on the city’s existing agreement (with them) and instead pursued alternative plans that ignore the legal and financial realities of the McIntyre site”.
“The bottom line: In almost two years, there has been no progress in the redevelopment of McIntyre and there seems to be no direction on how to move forward from here,” said they wrote in the editorial.
Kane said this week the subcommittee had “taken the development ball and they were running with him on the pitch, but this is their first paper route.”
“Unfortunately they are doing it with taxpayer money and we are spectators at this point,” he added.
Whelan could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
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But City Councilor Paige Trace, who sits on the committee, called Wednesday’s meeting “really constructive.”
“I think it’s like anything else in this world, it’s a work in progress,” she said. “I think with a little extra work, we’ll get to exactly where the residents want us to go with the project.
Discussions with the NPS
Asked about NPS ‘reaction to the proposal to build the addition above the post office, Trace said, “I think this will be a work in progress, remembering that the project must follow the 10 NPS rules for the post office. rehabilitation.”
She recognized that the project will have to be “respectful of the horizontal mass of the wing … and is sufficiently behind that we do not detract from this nature of the monument”.
The cost of the project
The city has not made an estimate of how much it will cost to build the project if it is approved by the NPS, and it is not yet clear who will pay at this time.
“First and foremost it’s not the cost, it’s what’s best for the city,” Trace said Thursday.
But the city said in its submission to the NPS that “the city is committed to increasing financial support for this project if it helps ensure its success.”
Deputy Mayor Jim Splaine said he had no recollection of city council making such a commitment.
“If we did it, it was a mistake,” Splaine said Thursday.
He called it “surprising” that there is no cost estimate for the project or a better understanding of how it is going to be paid.
“We haven’t engaged our partners as much as we should and that’s a big part of the problem,” he said.
Waiting for the new advice?
While it is “although the dialogue has started” with the NPS, Splaine believes that “nothing should be finalized by the city until the new council has joined”.
The new council is expected to be sworn in in January following the November 2 elections.
City Councilor John Tabor, who also sits on the subcommittee, called the meeting “substantial.”
“They gave us valuable feedback and we will need more meetings,” he said.
Asked about the reaction of the NPS to the proposed addition, Tabor said, “I think there are a lot of sites where we have received positive feedback and there are some parts of the site that we need to work within constraints. construction standards for the monument program.
He acknowledged that there was no cost estimate for the new project, but said “it would be putting the cart before the horse”.
“We need to know what the mass and scale of the project is that the park department is going to approve, so we can move forward,” Tabor said.
In its submission, the city noted that the new plan “attempted to energize the McIntyre building and site which for years has been a fortress-like federal exclusion island in the center of our historic downtown”.