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Developer Clem to Focus on River Park and Sell 3 Other Properties

  • River Park developer David Clem looks for a video on his phone in front of the former West Lebanon library building, which he now owns in West Lebanon, N.H., on June 10, 2015. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Developer David Clem speaks to the crowd at the groundbreaking of River Park in West Lebanon. N.H. on Sept. 24, 2015. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Clem's renovated Charles P. Wilder Center, shown at dusk on Oct. 11, 2010, is for sale. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2017

West Lebanon — Developer David Clem says he’s hoping to sell three properties in the Upper Valley so he can spend more time working on his mixed-use River Park development in West Lebanon.

The old West Lebanon Library, the Wilder Center and ABC Dairy building in Norwich are all looking for buyers, Clem said on Wednesday.

“I’m selling a lot of smaller properties that I’ve done over the last 10 years to focus on River Park,” he said during an interview at the old library building.

River Park is Clem’s proposal to build 840,000 square feet of retail, office and life science space on a 38-acre parcel between Route 10 and the Connecticut River. The project’s first phase also calls for nine new homes, infrastructure improvements and a cul-du-sac on Crafts Avenue.

The $500 million project won approval from the Planning Board in 2011, a year after Lebanon voters passed a referendum to rezone the property.

While River Park has been years in the making, there have been few changes on the ground as Clem and his company, Lyme Properties, continue to negotiate for a building permit. The site at the end of Crafts Avenue where crews began to stockpile supplies last year is largely empty now and neighbors say they haven’t heard about changes in the near future.

“I personally haven’t heard anything about the project since (November),” Crafts Avenue resident Morgan Swan said on Monday. “I did see the library for sale and wondered myself what that might mean.”

If all goes to plan, the 68-year-old Clem said, River Park will become his single holding in the Upper Valley, aside from a future home for him and his wife, Kathy. The two sold their six-bedroom home in Hanover and now spend winters in Clem’s home state of Texas.

He said talks are ongoing for a nonprofit to take over the Wilder Center, which he purchased in 2009.

The former church building was constructed in 1890 and first served as a United Church of Christ before becoming the First Congregational Church of Wilder. Clem’s renovation of the property in 2010 turned the space into a function facility, which he said was difficult to run because of too few parking spaces.

As part of ongoing talks, Clem purchased the property at 2072 Hartford Ave. across the street and intends to turn that into a parking lot. That property was purchased for $153,750 last June, according to Hartford assessing records.

Clem declined to say how much he is seeking for the Wilder Center. The property is currently assessed at $319,000.

In Norwich, Clem also is selling the ABC Dairy building on Church Street, which is on Route 5 north of town. The former Agway Energy property turned into office and warehouse space is assessed at $488,800, according to town records.

He’s also proposing to sell a historic structure in Lebanon.

A sign went up recently listing the old West Lebanon Library for sale. Realtor Chip Brown, of Harrington and Reeves, is listed as the agent. He declined to comment on the sale and a listing hasn’t been placed online yet.

The building currently is home to Lyme Properties, which uses 2,300 square feet of office space on the first floor, and an upstairs apartment for Clem, using 1,160 square feet of space. Clem said the listing price is only available to qualified buyers willing to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The city currently assesses the property at $191,600.

Clem purchased the old library building from the city in 2012, with a high bid of $141,000. At the time, he said it would serve as his commitment to restoring the West Lebanon business district.

He intended to move into the building’s second floor with his wife, while the first floor would serve as offices for Lyme Properties, but the plan came to a halt as Clem and the city disagreed on building codes.

The negotiations came to a head in 2014 when the city recommended Clem install sprinklers and a fire barrier between the office and residence, while Clem, at the time, suggested he would rather “invest in (a) community where (my) capital is appreciated.”

He put the library up for sale that fall but took down the for sale signs four months later after hiring White River Junction architect Frank “Jay” Barrett Jr. to help obtain the permitting necessary to complete work on the building’s restoration and a proposed 2,500-square-foot addition. Barrett said the first phase was completed in fall 2015. Plans to move forward with the addition were finished in June 2015, he said, but Clem decided not to move forward.

Clem said on Wednesday the permitting for the addition to the former library building was too restrictive, and that’s partially why he’s selling the building today. The city, he said, placed so many conditions on the addition that he cannot feasibly begin work, meaning there’s not enough room for guests in the apartment space.

“We would like to have a place that our children and daughter-in-law can come visit with the grandkids,” he said.

Once the building sells, he said he might build a new home on the River Park property or somewhere else in the city.

“I invested a lot of money and ended up having to stay in a hotel for the better part of a year waiting on the city to make up its mind about a building permit,” Clem said. “I think I’ve demonstrated a commitment to West Lebanon. This is a beautiful restoration.”

The sale comes as work on River Park is at a standstill. A building permit for its first phase still hasn’t been issued as Clem and the city negotiate over three things.

Clem and Lebanon Interim City Manager Paula Maville both said talks revolve around the amount Clem needs to put forth for a performance bond; who will inspect the project; and how much money the city will put forward for upgrading sewer lines along Crafts Avenue.

Clem said he hoped to begin work last summer, when he hired Thetford-based Northwoods Excavating to begin pre-construction. However, the project hit a stumbling block during a meeting with the city in July. Clem said that’s when the city informed him there wasn’t enough money in its budget to pay for its share of the sewer.

The two also weren’t able to negotiate the price Clem needs to put forth for a bond that will act as collateral if the project isn’t completed.

“We had everyone teed up. I was given verbal authorization to purchase the pipe. I’ve purchased the pipe and now the city is saying they’re not going to reimburse us for their share of the work,” Clem said.

Lebanon City Planner David Brooks said talks had been ongoing with Clem through December, when officials stopped hearing from him. A manager for the project then reached out to the city again in April and a meeting was set for May, but Clem and Lyme Properties canceled and haven’t rescheduled, Brooks said.

In correspondence this May to Clem’s attorney, Philip Hastings, the city agreed to lower its bond proposal down from $943,489, taking out a portion of the project it is responsible for paying.

The city also provided a cost estimate of between $24,838 and $30,987 for its share of the sewer upgrades, and declined to allow Clem to add to the list of contractors the city is reviewing as possible inspectors, saying a request for proposals has already been filled.

Clem said he intends to respond to the letter, but didn’t say when or if the two parties will reach an agreement in time for any work to be completed this year. The hold-up in construction has cost him potential tenants for the project’s first building, he said.

“We lost two leading prospects for two floors because we could not commit to a start date last fall. Those options are gone,” Clem said, adding there’s still some interest in office, retail and research space at the site.

“But until we receive our excavation and building permits, it’s is impossible for me to predict an occupancy schedule to prospective tenants to sign a definitive lease agreement,” he said.

City officials say they’re open to working with Clem on ongoing issues, but Brooks and Maville declined to say whether they believe an agreement will be reached soon.

Meanwhile, if the library were to sell, it would mark one of several changes to the area around Railroad Avenue in West Lebanon.

In April, the Planning Board approved a project that proposed renovating the old Westboro ticket station at 26 Railroad Ave. and connecting it to a new, two-story building. The resulting 2,7860-square-foot space would then house a deli, market and office space.

However, Lyme couple Amber and Kurt Boland, who were in talks with Clem to purchase the property, didn’t end up going forward. Instead, it sold to Curt Jacques in May for $290,000, according to city assessing records.

Jacques, who owns the neighboring West Lebanon Feed and Supply, confirmed last week he purchased the lot for parking. The Bolands declined to comment on the sale.

“After getting all approvals with the Planning Board, they were not able to secure favorable funding,” said Barrrett, who was hired by the Bolands for the project.

As for the historic ticket office, the city recently issued a permit allowing Clem to move it onto River Park property, Brooks said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Correction

Morgan Swan lives on Crafts Avenue in West Lebanon. His last name and the name of his street were misspelled in an earlier version of this story.