Three huge developments combine retail and office space with thousands of residential units

·11 min read

Sep. 11—With mail tucked into his waistband and a container of tomato vegetable soup in his hand, Dave Carstairs maneuvered along the sidewalks and crosswalks on a weekday of light traffic and low humidity.

Three years earlier, he and his wife sold their home in town and moved into a condo in Salem's Tuscan Village based on faith — before a Market Basket, L.L. Bean and dozens of other stores and restaurants rose from the ground.

"I can walk to everything" now, said Carstairs, 76, who figures he logs between 6 and 8 miles of walking a day.

The sprawling mixed-use project is part of a growing trend in New Hampshire to combine housing, retail and other uses on a single large site where people can walk or drive a short distance.

"I think the idea is to create as much as possible of a live-work-play community," said Dan Scanlon, senior associate broker at Colliers, a commercial real estate firm. "There's always synergy between housing and retail. When you are able to combine the two, it benefits both sides."

Among the largest mixed-use projects in the state are Tuscan Village, Woodmont Commons in Londonderry and Monitor Way in Concord.

Such projects often seek easy access to highways to lure both tenants and shoppers.

If fully built, the three projects would provide more than 3,500 housing units in a state desperately in need of more places for workers to live.

But they come at a price.

The Salem and Londonderry developments offer some three-bedroom options that surpass $5,000 a month to rent. The Concord project hasn't set prices yet.

Raising a Village

Tuscan Village — a 170-acre development on the site of the old Rockingham Park racetrack in Salem — has cranes and construction workers building a Marriott-affiliated Artisan hotel as well as more apartments.

At least a few dozen restaurants and stores already are operating.

"What we see out there now is impressive, but it's not half of what's going to be there when it's finished," said Salem Planning Director Ross Moldoff. "It's just a massive project with a massive amount of development."

Moldoff estimates the project is 40% complete.

Michael Powers, senior vice president of retail leasing at Tuscan Village, said that figure sounds about right. He said the projected 4 million square feet of development might not be finished until 2027 or beyond.

About half of the planned 700,000 square feet of retail space has opened.

The total cost of developing everything is expected to surpass $1 billion, split between developer Joe Faro and various development partners.

Originally, the project called for about 700 housing units. Today, that has swelled to 1,500, predominantly apartments.

About 600 units, including 95 sold townhouses, are occupied. Another 600 units are under construction.

"I think the real message behind the COVID impact is ... the consumer has really pulled itself into a more tightly knit environment," Powers said.

Meanwhile, Mass General Brigham this month will open a specialized medical facility in the village.

"They've got operating rooms. They do a lot of outpatient surgery of all kinds," Powers said. "They're going to do a lot of imaging, diagnostic imaging. A lot of clinical work. A lot of doctor's offices in there and other specialties, like dialysis."

After Rockingham Park closed in 2016, townspeople didn't want the property to sit idle, according to Moldoff.

"We adopted a very lenient zoning ordinance and very much wanted to stimulate and wanted to let the developer have free rein in many respects," Moldoff said.

Tuscan's various components require planning board review, he said, but the town has put no specific limits on the height of buildings or the number of residential units.

Residents, he said, "got exactly what they wanted."

The center of the Tuscan Village development features a lake, chairs and tables with umbrellas, and an open-air beer garden offering cornhole stations.

"It's uplifting to come here," said Pelham resident Tania Grennell, posing for pictures with friends near the lake.

She visits at least once a month, but hasn't considered moving there.

"It's expensive, my friend," she said.

Nearby, Lauren Hill was enjoying the sunshine with her husband, young son and another relative. Some of the grownups enjoyed adult beverages.

"It's nice to walk to different places without putting the kids back in the car," said the Pelham mother.

Elsewhere, bike rider Bill Brikiatis pedaled his way along a dedicated bike lane.

"I can see where some residents who have been here for a while are missing the small-town feel," said Brikiatis, who lives about four miles away via a bike trail. "For those of us who enjoy a little more activity, it's a positive."

A concept in Concord

The latest major mixed-use project on the drawing board is along the Merrimack River in Concord, where developer Kevin Lacasse wants to build 650 housing units, as well as shops and self-storage in a project expected to cost north of $100 million.

"That's the idea, kind of a live-work-play format," Lacasse said.

His New Hampton company, New England Family Housing, owns about 500 housing units in New Hampshire.

"In 500 units, we don't have anything vacant right now," he said.

His Concord project has five components, some of which can be built simultaneously.

A commercial/retail center of about 100,000 square feet will occupy the first floor of one building, with 250 market-rate apartments above that first-floor space.

A second phase will contain 120 workforce apartments at below-market rents.

Other phases will include 82 condos for purchase, up to 100,000 square feet of self-storage and finally 200 more market-rate apartments.

"The thing that we're really excited about this project is its uniqueness," Lacasse said. "We're not just bringing one type of housing product to the market."

He's working on acquiring the necessary town and state approvals.

Spring 2023 would be the earliest the project could break ground, with the first residents moving in sometime in 2024.

"We're trying to appeal to all demographics and people who would want to buy and stay forever and people who want to rent for a period of time and then decide to buy," he said.

Scanlon, the commercial real estate broker, questioned how much interest it would get from retailers.

"I'm a little dubious about how much retail they can attract there," Scanlon said. "It doesn't have the same kind of location that Tuscan and Woodmont have.

"Making that connection with Exit 17 (on Interstate 93), I think, is very important for that project," Scanlon said.

Lacasse hopes his project, just north of the Concord Monitor building, can connect with a road near Exit 17.

He said he has driven through Tuscan Village and Woodmont Commons in Londonderry.

"Tuscan Village is a great project," Lacasse said. "Obviously, where we're located is not Salem. It's certainly not going to be of that scale and scope."

"We studied a lot of different projects throughout the state" and picked up ideas from other states where his company operates, Lacasse said.

Developers are eager to find vacant property around the state.

"My phone rings constantly from people all around the country looking to buy land to build residential apartments in all the different formats," said Tom Farrelly, executive director for the New England region for Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate company.

"There is an insatiable demand to build apartments," Farrelly said.

The Concord project, for example, is the "kind of mixed-use development format that is very, very popular right now," he said.

Woodmont under way

At Woodmont in Londonderry, construction crews are building a retirement community with 270 units called The Baldwin that is scheduled to open in 2024.

Near a roundabout, construction has begun on a medical building that will include an imaging company and eye-care practice. It is slated to open next year.

The project's 600 acres actually span both sides of Interstate 93.

"I think it's exciting for Londonderry," said Town Manager Michael Malaguti.

"With the residential accompaniment, that is certainly filling a need that we have not only in Londonderry but statewide," he said.

The development is only about 5% to 6% complete, with about 15 years of construction remaining at a total project cost estimated at close to $500 million, according to Michael Kettenbach, principal of Pillsbury Realty Development, which is developing Woodmont Commons.

The project has been approved to build up to 1,400 housing units. So far, 87 apartments have been completed. All are occupied, with a waiting list numbering in the dozens, Kettenbach said.

The tenants living in the apartments now are "a true mix," he said.

"We have people receiving assistance from the state living there and people who don't need assistance," he said.

Rents for two-bedroom units run from $3,082 to $3,968 a month, according to the project's website. Three-bedroom apartments range from $4,165 to $5,265.

New resident Rachel Morrow pays around $4,000 a month for her three-bedroom apartment, which she called "steep" but necessary given the dearth of options in the area.

"It was really luxury-apartment style" right off the highway for her boyfriend and her daughter with an extra room for a home office.

The promise of a large-scale development within walking distance was "very appealing," Morrow said, but "I don't know if I will be here when it's all done."

Another resident who has lived there almost three years said he has been looking for another place for months, spurred by an increase in monthly rent of "well over a thousand dollars" during his time living there.

The project counted 179 residents, including 150 living in the apartments, as of June 30, 2021, according to an annual report the developer must file with the town. The population included 14 public-school children.

"There aren't a lot of children," Kettenbach said, "That came as a bit of a surprise."

The town and school district have netted more than $6.4 million in cumulative revenues from Woodmont Commons through the 2021 fiscal year, said Malaguti, the town manager.

Kettenbach said work will begin in the spring on 250 apartments north of the existing Main Street residential building.

Those apartments, along with 25 to 40 townhouses, are expected to be finished in late 2023 or early 2024.

Several businesses already have opened, including the 603 Brewery, Bella Nova Salon, HarborOne Mortgage and Orangetheory Fitness.

Leanna Vallone, membership associate at Orangetheory Fitness, where a handful of Woodmont residents are members, looks forward to more apartments and other buildings being developed on the site.

"It'll definitely bring in more traffic," Vallone said. "Londonderry is definitely growing."

The project has 230 or so acres on the east side of I-93 that will be accessed from the planned Exit 4A.

Construction on some of the buildings on that side will start in 2023.

"We're trying to keep our larger uses on the 4A side and the residential and some of the service-commercial (buildings) on the west side," Kettenbach said.

The east side has flexible zoning that permits diverse uses, including hospitals, light industrial operations or office use.

The area north of Pillsbury Road on the west side, which today includes apple trees, "will be predominantly residential," Kettenbach said.

What about increased traffic?

"Obviously, that's a concern that we hear a lot from our residents," Malaguti said. "I can tell you there's been significant upgrades to Route 102 in particular, and I think it has helped quite a bit."

Kettenbach said the project has spent about $5 million on traffic upgrades.

Exit 4A should take some of the traffic off Route 102, he said.

Commercial broker Scanlon said Woodmont has the necessary ingredients for a mixed-use project.

"They have the land mass. They have the location, and they're able to attract the kinds of retailers that appeal not only to the community but people who live in the apartments that they build on the site."

Woodmont Commons predates Tuscan Village, which "did a very nice job," Kettenbach said.

"I know it's kind of a different animal," Kettenbach said. "We actually have a main street, which is considered downtown."

What's Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire's workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, Fidelity Investments, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.