Builder to Convert Factory to Condos in Laconia, N.H.

LACONIA -- Chinburg Builders has switched the redevelopment of the former Allen-Rogers factory on Beacon Street West from high-end apartments to condominiums and has sold more than a third of the first phase of development, city officials said.

The Durham company got approval in 2004 to build rental units, condos, townhouses and commercial space on the 5.4 acres of factory property along the Winnipesaukee River at the former Allen-Rogers wood-turning mill building at 54 Water St. The first phase of 48 one- and two-bedroom apartments was due to be on the market at the end of 2004, but the project was stalled, city officials said.

In 2005, it became a Department of Environmental Services' Brownfields Cleanup Rehabilitation site because the land had lead and asbestos. The cleanup program helped to leverage $7 million in investment to create the 74 residential units and commercial space over five phases. The project was also stalled because developers were having a hard time finding financing for apartments.

City Manager Eileen Cabanel said the city is pleased with the changes Chinburg made to the plan to offer the units for sale as condos. No one had ever tried to offer high-end rental units in the city center before, she said.

"Yes, it has languished for awhile, but once they found there was no market for high-end rentals, they turned it into condos," she said. "And its working." Once a model unit -- with exposed brick and wood floors and views of the river -- was made available for view, Cabanel said, they sold many quickly. The units are listed from $99,000 to $200,000.

Chinburg Builders is known for its renovations of mill buildings, particularly in southern New Hampshire. The company also does residential and new construction. This week, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported that the city of Manchester may draw on a letter of credit Chinburg signed because it has not completed development of two condominium towers as part of the city's riverfront development project. Chinburg has completed 18 townhouses in the Manchester project and framing on six more will begin in a couple weeks, Chinburg said. That project is part of the Fisher Cats baseball stadium development.

He said he put a $1.6 million letter of credit on the project, contemplating that there would be a need for the city to draw on that money during the developmental stage. No such agreement was forged with Laconia for the Allen-Rogers building, Cabanel said. The factory was established in 1860 and was used to build railroad cars and boats and, in more recent years, turned wood products. It has been idle since 1998. Much of the sitework to prepare the area for redevelopment has been done and some of the condo units are expected to be completed in the spring, Chinburg said.

"We couldn't be happier with this developer," Cabanel said. "This project means a lot to the city and particularly to the downtown."