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Nashua hospital parking lot leases get cool reception

Union Leader Correspondent

August 29. 2013 10:25PM

NASHUA — Southern New Hampshire Medical Center has major plans to eventually build a multi-story parking garage and future medical office building downtown, but some of those long-term plans include city-owned property.

For many years, the hospital has leased a city-owned parking lot behind the CVS pharmacy on Main Street — at a cost of about $48,000 a year — to provide overflow parking for patients.

Now, city officials are contemplating whether to issue two new lease agreements with Southern New Hampshire Medical Center that would solve an ongoing dispute over the city land, as the nearby CVS pharmacy also would like to use some of the parking lot.

Before a new lease is approved that would allow the hospital to continue renting the 80-spot parking lot while it then subleases 37 spots to CVS, some aldermen are questioning the bigger picture of this deal.

Alderman Dan Moriarty, Ward 9, said other entities should have the opportunity to purchase the site from the city and that future options for that property should not be limited to two businesses.

"I feel we should pursue the maximum value to the city," he said Wednesday during an aldermanic Committee on Infrastructure meeting. " … We should see other alternatives."

If the two new agreements are approved by aldermen, the hospital will enter into a new 15-year lease to rent the city-owned parking lot for $48,000 a year, with a provision that the property may be purchased for $720,000 (with credit from rental fees) if improvements are eventually made to the site.

In return, the hospital may sublease 37 spots to the CVS pharmacy on Main Street, which is considering moving its building closer to Main Street and adding a drive-through.

"Really, this is the best we can come up with?" Moriarty asked his fellow committee members. There is no harm in striving for something other than a pharmacy and drive-through at a prime downtown location, said Moriarty, adding he envisions a hotel or convention center in the area instead.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the tentative agreement between all of the parties is a great community benefit and the result of lengthy collaborative discussions.

The proposed agreements are not about receiving the biggest investment, but rather allowing the city to have a seat at the table and encouraging new improvements to that area along East Hollis Street and Medical Center Drive.

Alderman Arthur Craffey, Ward 4, agreed. Craffey said the proposed parking garage is an important piece of the hospital's master plan, noting hospital expansions are positive changes for the city.

However, Alderman-at-Large James Donchess argued that the city's downtown master plan is in sharp contrast with the proposal to move CVS closer to Main Street and add a drive-through.

"There is no way that conforms to the master plan," he said. The downtown master plan recommends a mixed-use, multi-level retail building at the corner of East Hollis and Main streets, he said. "Shouldn't we know the value of what we are giving up?"

The committee delayed making any final recommendation on the proposed leases, instead voting to seek additional information from CVS on its preliminary design.

Scott Cote, chief information officer for the hospital, said that within the next 15 years, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center hopes to build a parking garage with 500 to 550 spaces and possibly a medical office building in that neighborhood. According to the hospital's master plan, it also would like to relocate its helipad landing to the new parking garage, allowing direct entry to the hospital's emergency department.

In the meantime, Cote said an undisclosed buyer is interested in purchasing the former Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical office building in that vicinity, which has been vacant for more than a year. A purchase-and-sale agreement has not yet been finalized, he said.

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