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May 27. 2013 9:18PM

College boom

Towers would house more Manchester students

A developer wants to buy the Pearl Street parking lot from the city and build two towers for college students in Manchester. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER 

MANCHESTER — A Massachusetts developer is talking with city leaders about buying the city's Pearl Street parking lot and investing up to $70 million to build two residential towers catering to college students, according to a project consultant.

If the private developer acquires the lot and gets the necessary city approvals, the first tower could open by late summer 2014, with the second tower opening as demand permits, according to consultant Mike Castagna.

"Something like this is going to be a catalyst for further development," said Castagna, who would manage the project's day-to-day operations.

The project could provide space for as many as 1,100 beds as well as parking for both residents and the public. The towers would be reserved for college students to live in apartments, rather than in traditional residence halls.

Mayor Ted Gatsas confirmed he met with the developer in recent weeks about a potential residential project on the site of the 328-space parking lot north of Bridge Street and east of Elm Street. Gatsas would not discuss specifics of the proposal.

Castagna said two other developers also have expressed interest in the project.

21,000 students

Manchester's colleges and universities host about 21,000 students, according to Thomas Horgan, president and CEO of New Hampshire College & University Council in Concord, a nonprofit consortium of 22 public and private institutions of higher learning.

"I think there's probably a demand," Horgan said.

"We certainly have seen in recent years an increased demand from students who want to stay on campus," he said. "Probably a generation ago, it was popular to spend a year or two on campus and then go off campus. Increasingly, people want to stay on campus for the community atmosphere."

This fall, for instance, Southern New Hampshire University, which straddles the Manchester-Hooksett line, expects to open Tuckerman Residence Hall, which can hold 308 students, according to spokesman Gregg Mazzola.

In the latest proposal, each tower would include three levels of parking, including one below-ground, and eight floors of residences, Castagna said. Combined, the two towers would provide space for 1,100 beds in a variety of living configurations to accommodate either single or married students with children, Castagna said. The project also would provide 800 to 1,000 parking spaces in the two towers.

Apartment buildings, retail businesses and offices now ring the nearly three-acre parking lot.

Alayna Peck, a stylist at Allure Salon, one of the parking lot's closest businesses, welcomed the development.

"It's going to generate a lot of business because they'll be a lot of people up and down the street," Peck said of the Pearl Street business.

There will be public parking available for rental.

Housing a priority

Castagna said he wasn't ready at this point to release estimates for renting units or parking spaces. He declined to name the Andover, Mass., developer.

"It's a development group that has some money and horsepower behind it," he said.

Castagna said the developer is in talks with city leaders over the price tag for the parking lot, which is less than a five-minute walk from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS).

"The mayor has his sense of what the lot's worth vs. the assessed value," he said.

Former Mayor Sylvio Dupuis, a special assistant to the president of MCPHS, said the college plans to grow in Manchester.

"The more we expand, the more we'll have a need for that kind of housing," Dupuis said.

Castagna said he has talked with officials at MCPHS, the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Manchester Community College and the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

He said he led a charette, or brainstorming session, in 2008 to identify what the neighborhood needed or wanted; student housing was noted as a priority.


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