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Developer putting millions into vacant Elm St. buildings to transform them into charming apartments

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 14. 2018 10:28AM
Robynne Alexander plans to turn buildings once housing Raxx Billiards and Lemay Brothers Jewelers on Elm Street into apartment units with retail uses on the first floor. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Robynne Alexander rattled off a list of reasons for buying the former Lemay Brothers Jewelers and Raxx Billiards buildings on Elm Street.

The 1940s-constructed buildings are on the city’s main street, within the central business district and exude an art deco feel.

“I like the fact it had a lot of potential,” said Alexander, a licensed real estate broker in California who lives in Manchester part of the year.

“With a little bit of vision and a little bit of love, this could be something cool,” she said Monday.

Alexander, who has family living in Manchester, spent nearly $2 million to buy the properties, 1211 and 1221-1225 Elm St., north of Bridge Street. She figures it will cost roughly another $3 million to complete her vision.

“It kept me intrigued why it was vacant for so long, why someone didn’t buy it,” she said of the two buildings that stayed mostly idle for multiple years.

Alexander plans to create 32 apartments — a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units with a first-floor fitness center.

“We’re looking to do a public package delivery system,” Alexander said.

Delivery companies, such as UPS, would leave packages in lockers for people who are away or are worried about packages getting stolen or damaged in the weather. Customers would receive email notifications and one-use codes to go to the lockers to retrieve their packages.

She has been working with city planning staff, hopes to go before the planning board in October and expects to complete the renovations in about 18 months.

Nico Marquis, who works nearby at Wash on Elm, welcomed the news.

“I’m glad its getting renovated,” he said. “I’m glad they’re trying to fix up the city a little bit.”

Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines said the apartments will help satisfy a growing hunger for downtown living.

“A lot more people are looking to live downtown and a lot of developers are focusing on downtown,” Baines said.

Robert Gagne, chairman of the city board of assessors, said there’s been some building makeovers north of Bridge Street along Elm in recent years but others could use a facelift.

“I think that there’s probably for at least a couple blocks north (of the Elm-Bridge intersection) opportunities to get some better uses out of those buildings,” he said.

He said Alexander could benefit from a state community revitalization tax incentive for being within a zone that encourages investment in downtowns and village centers.

That tax break works “where the valuation is locked in for five years after renovation,” Gagne said.

Alexander said she is looking at getting a federal tax break under a different program.

The Raxx building is three stories tall while Lemay stands two stories. The space included nine office suites and an area used for storage or distribution, she said.

Her purchases encompass multiple address along Elm Street: 1195, 1211, 1217, 1221 and 1225 as well as 11 Pearl St., where an Indian restaurant previously operated.

The buildings come with 24 deeded parking spaces plus a municipal lot in the back.

She said she first worked to buy the Lemay building but then the ability also to acquire the Raxx building made the project more appealing.

The two buildings are vacant except for Helen’s Tailoring, which Alexander asked to remain.

A woman working there Monday declined comment.

Alexander doesn’t plan to be an absentee developer.

“This is going to be my signature entry into the Manchester market and I want to make sure it’s appropriately managed,” Alexander said.

She has at least two other Manchester projects she is considering that she is keeping under wraps for now.

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