No Deal: Laconia School Buyer Misses Deadline

A rendering of developer Robynne Alexander’s proposal to redevelop the Laconia State School into 1,900 units of housing, a hotel and conference center and medical facilities. Image courtesy of CBRE and The Boulos Co.

In 2021, Gov. Chris Sununu rewrote state law to give himself the power to sell the beautiful but problematic 220-acre former Laconia State School campus, saying he’d succeed where others had failed. With just three votes from the Executive Council, Sununu was able to sidestep the typical lengthy state vetting process.

Now Sununu’s plan has stalled, too, but maybe not failed.

The state’s chosen buyer, Robynne Alexander, who offered $21.5 million in cash, missed her Monday deadline to close the deal despite receiving three extensions. However, the group that submitted the next-highest bid after Alexander told the Bulletin Saturday it has let the state know it remains interested in the property.

Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus said Monday evening the state will “begin aggressively marketing the property” Tuesday morning. It entered into an agreement with Alexander 16 months ago after the Executive Council voted 3-2 in favor of her offer.

The New Hampshire Bulletin’s 18-month investigation of Alexander found that she’s been sued by multiple investors, is facing her third foreclosure and has a history of failing to pay property taxes on time.

The latest development came earlier this month when the Bulletin reported that Alexander, of Manchester, was under investigation by the Bureau of Securities Regulation, an agency charged with protecting investors against fraud. Friday, the bureau asked the superior court to force Alexander to comply with a request for six years of business records.

Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer has said the completion of the proposed $500 million “Legacy at Laconia”  development would be “transformational” for the city because it so desperately needs housing.

Scott Tranchemontagne, spokesperson for the Laconia project, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday evening.

Hawthorne Development Corp., which offered the state $12.5 million, just over half what Alexander did, would like to pursue options with the state, according to Paul Hodes, a former congressman and member of Shanti Energy, which intended to be a partner.

Their proposal was similar to Alexander’s but would have used solar power and geothermal to produce enough energy for the entire development.

“We believe there is an opportunity to transform the Laconia State School site, with sensitivity to the past and a vision for the future which, when completed, will set an example for enhanced quality of life for the city of Laconia and the project’s occupants through net-zero design, construction and lifestyle,” Hodes said in an email. “We submitted a substantive proposal and a realistic offer in the original round to meet the community’s needs in a professional and timely manner. Our team remains interested and ready to jump in.”

Arlinghaus said he expects the state will require all interested buyers to submit a bid, even if they had done so before.

Should a deal with Hawthorne Development Corp. not materialize, Arlinghaus’ office may have a challenge finding another buyer with a big vision for the site or one willing to pay as much.

This story has been excerpted under a Creative Commons license from a longer report first published in The New Hampshire Bulletin.