Is a sports center in Broad Street's future?
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Feb. 22, 2013
Interest in the Broad Street Redevelopment Project is growing throughout Manchester. The project will bring new life to a lot that was formerly an abandoned shopping area. The 18 acres has been acquired by the town, cleared, and is poised for redevelopment. The Redevelopment Plan envisions a mix of housing, commercial use, entertainment, offices and civic uses. With many in town writing up wish lists for what they want to see constructed, the current conversation is focusing on an indoor sports center.
“It's been an idea for a long time,” said Mark Pelligrini, director of planning and economic development. But a careful process of selecting a developer will first take place before any plan is decided on.
The town, through the Redevelopment Agency, will soon issue a Request for Qualifications from private developers who are interested in pursuing the project. The agency will create a shortlist of developers based on their track record, ability to get financing and experience in similar projects. A master developer will then be selected to be a partner with the town on the project.
At this point, the agency is simply trying to find out if there are any developers out there with the experience to bring such a project forward. While the agency is not committing to any specific use at this point, the language of the RFQ includes a nod to those hoping for a sports center.
“Among the criteria that we're looking for to include is any experience the developer has had with public/private partnership developments for civic uses, such as field houses, sports arenas or other kinds of civic buildings,” said Pelligrini. “That may influence who we select as the master developer.”
Pelligrini stressed that the agency is not requesting any particular project, such as a sports center. Any project - be it housing, commercial use, or civic use including a sports center - will first require detailed market analysis, done by the master developer, to determine what is feasible. Such a study would answer some important questions: what is there a market for? Who will finance the project? Who will operate it once it is built – the town or the private sector?
One possible outcome of the study could be that the private sector determines that the market would not support a sports facility at the location. But if the community continues to demand it, the town would bring the project forward and operate it at its own expense. “If the town runs it, it doesn't become a market question anymore. It's a public investment,” said Pelligrini.
Cheri Pelletier, a Republican on the Board of Directors, believes there is plenty of demand in town for a sports center. “Manchester had always been a big recreation town,” she said. “We certainly have the capacity in the area to build a complex. But more importantly, we have some needs right now with our high school.” Manchester High School does not have a track facility, nor does it have an adequate space for graduation ceremonies.
Pelletier said that there has been bipartisan support for a prospective sports center. In 2009, a plan of a potential facility building was drafted, which cited a preliminary estimated cost of $10 million, though according to Pelletier, that could easily go up depending on certain decisions, such as whether it features a bubble dome or has a field house design.
Based on conversations with residents, Steve Gates, a Democrat on the Board of Directors, also sees high demand for a multipurpose indoor athletic facility. “I've spoken to many constituents, from the senior center, to soccer leagues, to little leagues and softball leagues, and the rec. department, and every available indoor space we currently have is stretched to the max,” he said. “I do think there is a very strong need on behalf of the community.”
Gates is eager to see the town partner in support of a commercial developer. He also wants to minimize the amount of public investment that would go into the project, and allow the private sector to develop and run such a facility. He also does not believe such a facility would use all 18 acres. “It wouldn't require the entire parcel,” he said. “It could only require just a portion and would be quite complimentary to mixed-used development.”
Pelligrini also noted that a sports center is not the only idea on the table. There are conversations about moving the town's library services out of Mary Cheney Library, and a new library facility could be built. Others want an expanded or new senior center. Even if a sports center is decided on, it most likely would not take up the entire 18 acres, and could coexist with other uses. “There's a lot of things the community wants,” said Pelligrini. “It's a question of priorities, and of the community's willingness and ability to pay.” Part of the appeal of a private developer partnering with the town is the resources it could bring to finance a project.
“The conversation so far has been: is there a way to get a private entity to build, or have a private entity partner with the town to build, some sort of indoor sports complex?” he said. “And until you do some sort of analysis, you just don't know.”