MANCHESTER — A key aldermen’s committee has backed waiving the city’s right to purchase a prominent Millyard building, paving the way for a deal that would allow both the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and the DEKA technology company to expand and consolidate their facilities.
The Committee on Land and Buildings made the recommendation at its meeting Tuesday, while stipulating that the parties affirm that the building at 400 Commercial St. will not be sold to a nonprofit in the future, and that should UNH buy the building it would negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes with the city.
Some aldermen also faulted the parties for not informing the city sooner about the deal and then pressing it to waive its 90-day right of first refusal.
Under the agreement, DEKA owner Dean Kamen and his partners would purchase 400 Commercial St. from UNH and would, in turn, lease all six floors of the prominent Pandora building, which is owned by the partners, at the intersection of Commercial and Granite streets. DEKA would then use 400 Commercial St. to expand its offices.
Interim dean Michael Hickey and Robert Tuttle, DEKA’s vice president of research, said the deal would be good for the city’s economy, both by shifting a major property onto the tax rolls and by facilitating their expansions.
“DEKA has been expanding by 75-100 employees a year the last couple years ... .We are full out in terms of space,” Tuttle told the committee.
“For years we tried to keep the Pandora empty for UNH to expand.”
Hickey said that consolidating its campus in the marquee Pandora building would allow it to build up its science, technology and engineering programs, commonly referred to by the acronym STEM.
“We’ve made a major commitment to STEM education,” he said. “I think this building will allow us to expand existing programs and make them more open to the public.”
But several aldermen said they should have been included in the discussions earlier, given the city’s claim on the property.
Hickey said that the UNH board of trustees only recently approved the deal, and there was not enough time before the previous aldermen’s meeting to bring it forward.
“The fact this was kept under wraps — I understand the need to bring to it to the trustees,” said Alderman-At-Large Dan O’Neil. “But why wasn’t there a conversation? I guess I’m disappointed.”
Nonprofit corporations are exempt from paying property taxes on buildings they own that are used for educational purposes. 1850 Associates — the Kamen partnership buying the Commercial Street property — would pay taxes on the building.
As part of the request to the city, Tuttle said he wanted the city’s right of first refusal restriction dropped from the deed for the property.
At the same time, he agreed that 400 Commercial St. would not be sold to a nonprofit.
The city’s right of first refusal dates to the late 1990s, when it spent bond money to rehabilitate the building and was wary about recouping its investment.