June 18. 2013 10:41PM

Pearl Street lot proposal involves student housing in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — The chief executive of a Massachusetts-based development company has unveiled a proposal for an eight-story “student housing” tower that it would like to build at the current site of the city’s Pearl Street parking lot.

The tower would contain three lower floors of parking for the general public and six floors of student housing, meant to serve some of the 20,000 students who attend area schools, including the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Southern New Hampshire University.

“We’re excited about this project. We’ve done a substantial amount of analysis of the market, and we’re very confident in this product,” James Vitas, the CEO of VMD Companies of Andover, Mass., told members of the aldermen’s Committee on Land and Buildings on Monday. “There’s plenty of funding for this asset class, for student housing.”

VMD is seeking to buy the Pearl Street lot, which generates about $150,000 in annual revenue for the city. In order to sell the lot directly to VMD, aldermen would have to vote to suspend rules that require city land be sold through public auction, on the grounds that selling to the developer was in the city’s “best interest.”

Several aldermen indicated that they were “excited” about the project, but wanted to more time to review the proposal and to determine an appropriate price for the lot.

“We don’t have a history working with you guys,” Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur said. “We’ve dealt with other developers who have not come though before. But members of the board I’ve talked to are excited about it. We want to do it right.”

The committee voted to have VMD submit a formal letter of intent to purchase the property, which would begin the process of arriving at a price.

A report commissioned by the city’s assessing board has valued the lot at $1.3 to 1.5 million.

Mayor Ted Gatsas has met with the proponents of the project. Gatsas, who was not at Monday’s meeting, has raised concern about selling city parking lots for too low a price.

At Monday’s meeting, Vitas emphasized the economic benefits that could come from the building, which he estimated would be worth up to $70 million when completed.

He said that by keeping commuting students in city, $18.5 million could be pumped into the local economy, through spending on groceries, nightlife and other products.

It’s not clear at this point if VMD if seeking to develop the project itself or acquire the rights for another developer. Vitas told aldermen that the firm is involved in a mixed-use project in Portsmouth and another on the Seacoast.

A portfolio of projects was not available on VMD’s website, which states that the company “specializes in the acquisition, permitting and approvals, leasing, and disposition of commercial real estate.”

Vitas presented a rendering of the proposed tower at Monday’s meeting, but he decline to provide the image to the New Hampshire Union Leader.