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Renovations Pick Up Along Strip

Hartford OKs Project On Sykes Mtn. Ave.

Hartford — Another organization in recent months has won approval to transform a parcel off the northwestern end of Sykes Mountain Avenue, a commercial strip near the interstate exchange in White River Junction.

American Legion Post 26 received Planning Board approval last month to renovate the upstairs of the former Pines Motel on Dewitt Drive, the same building that houses the NBC-affiliated television station, WNNE-TV.

Hartford Post 26 Commander Dan Reed said plans call for a contractor to gut and reconfigure the building’s 5,600 square-foot top floor, adding a meeting hall, a lounge with a bar and a warming kitchen. He said WNNE will likely continue to operate out of the bottom floor of the building.

The public assembly will give more than 300 legion members adequate space for meetings, social events and bingo games.

“We finally came across something we could afford and that suited our needs,” Reed said of the 1-acre parcel. “It is going to be really nice.”

The American Legion isn’t the first group in the past year to announce plans to renovate or build off Sykes Mountain Avenue.

The Car Store, a Norwich-based Subaru dealership, won Planning Board approval Monday night to transform the 45,000 square-foot Upper Valley Lanes and Games building, and some accompanying land, into a motor vehicle sales and service facility. The project is contingent upon Zoning Board approval, which could come as soon as tonight.

The plan for The Car Store followed the purchase of 22 nearby acres behind White River Toyota by that dealership’s owner, The Heritage Automotive Group of South Burlington, Vt. In March, Heritage President David Machavern said the company bought the land for future expansion, though it had no immediate plans for the property.

Meanwhile, Riverbank Church last year purchased a 5.4 acre parcel off Sykes Mountain Avenue — at the end of Holiday Drive — to build a permanent place of worship. Pastor Chris Goeppner said he hoped to raise a chunk of money before securing a construction loan and proceeding with the permitting process. He said ground could be broken as soon as next year.

The American Legion hasn’t yet received all necessary state and local permits to break ground, Reed said, though he was hopeful the renovation — which could cost upwards of $100,000 — would be completed by November.

American Legion officials have been meeting at an interim location inside the Gates-Briggs Building since selling its 22,500-square-foot post on South Main Street in downtown White River Junction in December 2012.

Matt Bucy, a Hartford Selectman who has redeveloped the Woolen Mill, Tip Top and Dreamland buildings, purchased the former American Legion building for $600,000 with plans to convert it into commercial and residential space.

“We weren’t in a rush to find a place,” Reed said of the year and a half search for a new home.

Kyle Grimes, president and general manager of WNNE, said he was pleased to have the American Legion as a landlord.

“I think it is terrific that someone purchased the building who has plans to renovate it and use it in the best interest of the community,” Grimes said, though he declined to elaborate on the lease agreement between the legion and WNNE. “We are excited to be working with them.”

Town records show Hartford Post 26 purchased the Dewitt Drive building on March 10 for $189,000.

“The timing was perfect,” Reed said, noting American Legion officials snagged the building just as it went on the market.

“We said, if something comes along that would suit our purpose, then we would act on it. And that came along.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.