HOOKSETT — Calling it an impressive demonstration of the power of public-private partnerships, Gov. Maggie Hassan led the groundbreaking for the roughly $32 million expansion of the Hooksett welcome centers on Interstate 93 Thursday afternoon.
Under a 35-year lease with the state, the Common Man restaurant group is funding the design, construction, maintenance and operation of both service areas — with the exception of the two New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet Stores, which will be funded and operated by the state Liquor Commission.
"The degree of collaboration continues to impress, which includes all parts of state and government coming to work together, it is a great demonstration of a private public partnership," Hassan said.
Members of the business community, including Alex Ray, owner of the Common Man family of restaurants, and his partner Rusty McLear, joined local and state officials at the groundbreaking.
"This is the biggest investment we have ever made. It's a leap of faith. We are hoping for a good return, it's a hearty investment. And a risk taker because there are no national brand chains here. It is local businesses, developers, financing and construction," Ray said.
Along with the roughly 130 permanent jobs that the upgrade is expected to create, Jeffrey Downing of Connection Construction, who will serve as the project's general contractor, said that construction is expected to create 200 to 300 jobs.
"This is a great state to do business and live in," McLear said.
Joseph Mollica, chair of the State Liquor Commission, said that the liquore store expansion, which he said would increase the two stores' square footage by 12,000 feet, is expected to bring in $6 million in additional annual revenue once completed.
He said the two stores generated roughly $35 million last year.
Hooksett Town Administrator Dean Shankle was also in attendance, and said that he expects the new welcome centers to be a tremendous addition to the town.
"Everyone here is looking forward to it. With the Bass Pro Shops opening across town it will really get people to stop in town," Shankle said.
Along with the country store, restaurant and liquor stores, the welcome centers will become home to about 16 new fueling stations operated by Irving Oil.
Hassan added that the upgrade will also add a recharging station for electric cars.
According to Irving Oil President and CEO Paul Browning, Irving is investing $2 million into the project.
Bill Boynton of the state Department of Transportation said the state is very pleased with the expansion, especially since it is a local project.
"We are very happy it is all New Hampshire-based, it will just add flavor to it," Boynton said.