Developers unveil revised McIntyre building plan
By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Oct 11, 2018 at 3:33 PM
PORTSMOUTH -- A Redgate vice president told a city committee the developers are awaiting a counter-offer from the U.S. Postal Service on a lease proposal they made to keep the post office downtown.
Steve Perdue stressed the development team’s “enthusiasm” for keeping the post office on the 2.1-acre property to members of the McIntyre Public Process Steering Committee at a Thursday meeting at City Hall. Redgate/Kane Co. is the city’s development partner on the planned redevelopment of the McIntyre Federal Building property. Perdue shared the team’s latest design and updated renderings for the property.
The city has been trying for years to gain control of the federal property from the General Services Administration, which owns it. During the past year, the city has been working to acquire the property for free through the Historic Monument Program, which the National Park Service administers. But the redevelopment has been mired in controversy, first for the size and scope of the redevelopment, and most recently over the news the post office might be forced off the property.
At a Sept. 20 meeting USPS officials held in Portsmouth, numerous residents and business owners expressed desire to keep the post office at the McIntyre property, and some criticized city officials for not doing more to keep it there. USPS real estate specialist David Rouse repeatedly told the crowd that packed City Council chambers “we prefer to stay where we are.”
“We have been told by both the city and their chosen developer that we have to relocate while the renovations occur,” he said. “We can’t stay.”
City Councilor Doug Roberts, who serves on the McIntyre committee, asked about Rouse’s statement that Redgate/Kane’s offer called for a rent that is triple per square foot what the post office pays now. The space the post office is seeking is one-third of what it uses now, Roberts said.
Perdue said they asked for market rate and to get the “highest and best use” of the area they offered to the post office. But because of the substantial drop in square footage the post office needs, “that dollar amount annually may even be less,” Perdue said.
Roberts also asked if developers knew how much it would cost to keep the post office on site during the redevelopment. Rouse has said repeatedly that if the post office leaves the property it is not coming back. “We don’t have an official amount. We don’t yet really understand what we would have to do,” Perdue replied. That includes determining “how much effort” they would have to put in “containing, protecting (and) creating multiple layers of separation” for the facility.
City Councilor Chris Dwyer, the committee chairwoman, cautioned its members “to step back and look at this from the balcony (level) and see what they’re trying to do.” It will be important, she said, to “figure out if anything we offer will be accepted.” Dwyer also released a draft letter the committee plans to send to the USPS about the city’s desire for the post office to “retain a presence somewhere on the McIntyre site, although not necessarily in its current location.”
The letter also notes the public anticipated the post office “would be willing to cooperate in managing a temporary interim situation.”
Redgate/Kane initially proposed converting the federal building into office space, while building two 5½-story and two 3½-story buildings on the property. It has since eliminated the 5½-story building off Daniel Street after receiving pushback from the National Park Service on the proposal’s scale and density. It also dropped plans to demolish part of the one-story post office wing. Kane Co. President Michael Kane said the team also reduced the other proposed 5½-story building to 4½ stories.
Perdue offered new details of the proposed redevelopment, including the possibility that some of the retail space could include a brewery and “major fitness center.” He also discussed the proposed central community plaza, which may be surrounded in part by 100- to 200-square-foot stalls for vendors to rent. Daniel Plaza, one of the proposed public spaces, is planned to be about 30 to 50 feet wide and 70 feet long with small lawn area that could be used to create a “play area of some type ... a place parents and children could come to,” Perdue said.
He said Bow Plaza is planned to be about 40 by 80 feet with “bordered planters,” which will be “very green on the inside but have a nice place to sit on the outside.” The plaza will offer a view of St. John’s Church, along with a “few trees that flank the plaza” and a series of crosswalks that connect Bow and Penhallow streets, he said.
Perdue acknowledged the developers “think it’s going to take a tremendous amount of programming to activate the central plaza space” that could include movie nights, concerts, small performances and art installations. “Just about anything could occur in that space,” he said.
Perdue asked the five committee members, including two city staffers, at Thursday’s meeting, if “we’ve brought enough green space into the project at this stage.”
Roberts called it a “touchy question because some people would like the site to be a park,” but he credited the developers with “adding a lot of green.” “I think everyone would be in favor of that,” he said.
Committee member Lawrence Yerdon, president of Strawbery Banke, praised developers for creating a setting for St. John’s that he described as a “beautiful building.” “I really like the fact St. John’s is going to get framed,” he said.