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August 07. 2013 10:14PM

Anthem to move HQ, 250 jobs to downtown Manchester

MANCHESTER— A major employer is set to move its headquarters to the city's downtown.
 
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield New Hampshire, the state's largest health insurer, is expected to finalize a lease agreement this week with the owner of 1155 Elm Street, the tower at the intersection with Bridge Street.
 
The move, projected to take place in early 2014, will bring about 250 employees to downtown. Anthem's main office is currently at 3000 Goffs Falls Road, on the south side of the city near Pine Island Park.
 
"We're thrilled Anthem is coming to downtown," Mayor Ted Gatsas said. "It tells you something about the vibrancy of the city. Things are moving forward."
 
Anthem plans to occupy three floors of the building. Its most prominent tenant had been Bank of America, but the corporation left the building two years ago.
 
As part of the lease agreement, Anthem sought an additional 50 spaces at the parking garage at 1155 Elm that the city controls through an easement. The spaces, on the ground floor, are currently used as a public parking facility.
 
The aldermen on Tuesday approved an agreement between the city and the building's owner, Farley White Interests, to sell the easement for all 68 of the city's spaces in the garage for $510,000. Some aldermen, however, raised concerns over how the loss of the spaces would affect small businesses in the area and their patrons.
 
At least one group of businesses welcomed the news that Anthem would be coming. Restaurant owners said the new employees would further fuel downtown's revitalization.
 
"I'm ecstatic," said David Perry, who recently became the owner of the Bridge Street Cafe. "I look forward to waiting on them, getting them breakfast and lunch — and catering. Anytime new employees come to the downtown area, it just shows how much vibrancy there is."
 
The timing was also auspicious for Tim Baines, the owner of the upscale eatery Mint Bistro. Next month, he plans to start serving lunch three days a week.
 
"Anytime you get a company such as Anthem to move downtown, it's good for everybody," he said.
 
While the aldermen on Tuesday were supportive of the move, some were upset that they were being called upon to approve the agreement for the parking spaces without having a chance to assess how it would affect the people who rely on them.
 
"I think this is great, Anthem is coming downtown, but you can't make a move for one large employer and then hurt smaller employers," Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil said.
 
O'Neil was particularly concerned about how the loss of the spaces would affect physical therapy patients at Apple Therapy Services on Kosciuszko Street, directly opposite the garage.
 
Parking Manager Denise Boutilier said she had "no plan" to deal with the loss of spaces at 1155 Elm, but she said there is spare capacity at Victory Garage near Victory Park.
 
Gatsas said the deal only came together last week, and time was of the essence, in part because the building's owner needs to make substantial renovations to accommodate Anthem.
 
Under the agreement, Farley White Interests, the building's owner, will pay the city $170,000 upon the closing of the deal, in addition to a $30,000 deposit. It will pay the city the remaining $310,000 over five years at 5 percent interest.
 
The agreement came on the same evening that Gatsas insisted that the city solicit bids for the nearby Pearl Street parking lot, rather than sell directly to an interested buyer.
 
Gatsas said it was a different situation at 1155 Elm because the city didn't own the garage, only an easement for 68 ground floor spaces; the city didn't have the option to sell the spaces on the open market.
 
John Power, the principal of Boston-based Farley White Interests, said at the meeting that he would be willing to make an effort to address some of the concerns raised by the aldermen.
 
Anthem President Lisa Guertin said the company was looking forward to the move. "Our thanks to Mayor Gatsas and the city for the great support we've gotten during this process," Guertin said in a statement. "The city of Manchester is a vibrant business hub and we're very excited to be re-locating downtown."
 
Guertin was not available for a follow-up interview late Wednesday.
 
tsiefer@unionleader.com


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