Ex-Sen. Gregg offers support for McIntyre plan
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Mar 12, 2019 at 5:36 PM
Updated Mar 12, 2019 at 5:38 PM
PORTSMOUTH -- Former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg is now endorsing the redevelopment plan for the McIntyre Federal Building being pitched by the city and its development partners.
Gregg, in a letter to the Portsmouth City Council, said “given the restrictions accompanying the redevelopment of the site (specifically preserving the existing structure while ensuring no development costs are borne by the city), I think the city of Portsmouth and its development partner have done an excellent job.”
City Manager John Bohenko released the letter Tuesday afternoon after the Portsmouth Herald asked for a copy of it.
In the letter dated March 8, Gregg wrote, “I believe the amount and quality of the open/public space in the current program supports the growing lifestyle of downtown Portsmouth.”
“The fact that all funds collected beyond a reasonable profit will go to the city to support historic preservation as well as new and existing parks, is encouraging,” he said. “The indoor year-round community space is outstanding and will be a strong addition for those who want to enjoy free and open access to public space in inclement weather.”
Gregg’s letter is in contrast to his comments to the Portsmouth Herald last June, when he said he was “uniquely frustrated” by what has occurred with the McIntyre property.
“When I was in the Senate working with Mayor (Evelyn) Sirrell and the town, I was able to get a specific set of funds, $23 million, and we had a letter agreement with the town,” Gregg told the Portsmouth Herald at the time. “The town would take care of the asbestos, I got the $23 million (and) the building would come down.”
That plan called for an underground garage at the site of the federal building and to use “75 percent of the land” at the 2.1-acre property for a “nice beautiful park running down to the Ceres Street area,” he said.
“We would take down that ugly eyesore in the middle of the town and put up buildings, which were of a federalist style, part commercial, part residential,” he said last June. “The agreement was all worked out, the money was available and something happened.”
Gregg last June added that he was “really disappointed” the plan for the McIntyre property never came to fruition. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Gregg referenced the previous deal in his letter to the City Council and pointed to what he described as the McIntyre building’s “unfortunate architecture.”
He acknowledges in his letter that having to retain the building is “not an ideal condition, but it is the current reality to which the project must adhere.” The city and its development partners Redgate/Kane are trying to redevelop the property through the Historic Monument Program, through which the city can get the property for free, but must leave the McIntyre building intact.
“The time to finally get this important project moving is now and the development plans require an open mind,” Gregg said, adding he understands the “desire of some for a park in this location.” “However,” he said, “the advent of new parks at the Worth lot, Bridge Street and Vaughan Mall, coupled with existing open space such as Prescott Park, give the city open green space.”
The City Council has discussed plans to turn the Worth and Bridge Street lots into parks at some point, but there are no formal plans, no timetable and nothing has been approved. Redgate/Kane’s plan calls for turning the McIntyre building into high-quality office space, building two new mixed-use buildings, previously described as three buildings, with commercial and retail on the first floor, and 77 high-end apartments above. They contend their plan meets the city’s zoning ordinance by having 77 parking spots for the apartments, but none for other uses.
Reached late Tuesday afternoon, Michael Kane, president and chief executive officer of the Kane Company, said, “I think the more people learn about the project, the more people will be supportive and excited about the project.” The development team reached out to Gregg and asked him “to take a look at our 3D model and tell us what you think,” Kane said.
“If people really look at the issues, not the hearsay issues, the real issues, they’re going to realize this is a great project,” Kane said. “That’s what the senator did.” He encouraged people to visit the project’s new website at mcintyreproject.com. “The more people look hard at what we’re doing, you’ll see more and more people feeling the same way that Sen. Gregg does,” Kane said, adding the development team is “happy to field any questions that people have.”