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Aldermen approve tax credit for ‘The Factory on Willow’ project | Business

MANCHESTER – The city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen has approved an application for the RSA 79-E tax credit program for five years for the renovation of the former Cohas Shoe Factory at 252 Willow Street.

Liz Hitchcock and Amy Chhom of The Factory on Willow, LLC appeared before the aldermen Tuesday night to discuss their plans to transform the building into a “creative economic hot spot for entrepreneurs.”

Paperwork filed with the city’s Economic Development Office show plans for the site include:

renovating the building to create 66 residential units, of which 54 will be designed as work/live units, and developing 35,000 square feet of commercial space to include retail, office, and dining options.

“The building and surrounding property will be transformed into a cultural hotspot and will provide future residents with a privately funded affordability model, for a portion of the units, designed to support the creative economy,” wrote outgoing Manchester Economic Development Director Melanie Sanuth, in paperwork submitted to city aldermen. “The proposed renovation will undoubtedly enhance and improve this structure which is both culturally and historically important. Filling this empty, blighted building with the creative economy professional will likely increase the sense of community and safety for neighborhood residents and business owners.

Last January, the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a variance to allow artisan lofts, a photography studio and dwellings in upper stories of a building with a commercial first floor. Upon completion of the project, the final square footage will consist of 96,164 square feet, situated on 3.319 acres of land in the Redevelopment Zone of Manchester.

Plans show The Factory at Willow would retain existing green space, which would provide outdoor spaces to both the public and residents of the community. Paperwork submitted with the application show the property includes a ‘Leash Free’ pet area, a ‘Modern English Garden’ greeting those parking in the South lot, and an outdoor event space comprised of a small amphitheater, bench swings, interactive metal art, and a deck area for patrons visiting a revolving food truck area.

As part of an ‘Artists Collaborative’ area of the project, nationally recognized metal-working artist and furniture designer Vivian Beer has agreed to relocate her studio to Manchester, according to paperwork filed with the city.

The RSA 79-E tax credit program lets developers who improve blighted properties in downtown areas delay paying property taxes on the value of the improvements. To qualify under the statute, the applicant must meet several requirements — including that the rehabilitation of the structure must cost at least 15 percent of the pre-rehabilitation assessed valuation or at least $75,000.

Online appraisal records show that the assessed value of the two combined lots is $2.15 million. The proposed renovations total $14,154,400.

Built in 1904 by William Howe McElwain, it operated as the Cohas Shoe Factory. A succession of shoe manufacturers and government operations bought the building before it stood empty for years prior to Electropac buying it in 1979.

Electropac grew to more than 330 workers at five locations in New Hampshire. Mass Design Inc. acquired the firm in 2015 and moved the operations by year’s end.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the RSA 79-E application, with Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann abstaining.

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