Plans: Hotel, more to replace infamous eyesore


By: Adam Leech
Date: Thursday, Jan 25, 2007
Publication: Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH - The owners of the Parade Office Mall long known as an unsightly reminder of the 1970s urban renewal project, plan to raze the property and replace it with a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development.

Details of the project layout will not be available until the Historic District Commission meeting Feb. 14, but Jeff Johnston, principle at Cathartes Private Investments, the Boston company that owns the site, confirmed the project is moving forward.

Architect Lisa DeStefano said the proposal will include retail and office space, an extended-stay hotel, and residential units. Plans also include underground parking, as well as surface parking.

The project is the latest in a series of proposed redevelopments of the northern tier. Other plans include the Westin Hotel, conference center and parking garage, the mixed-use development planned for the Portsmouth Herald property, and a project that has been submitted for 31 Raynes Ave.

This project is considered Phase 2 of development for the Parade Mall area - the first being the Hilton Garden Inn and Harbour Hill Condominium complex, which opened last year.

Prior to the urban renewal movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the neighborhood, known as the North End, was a residential section populated mostly by Italian-American families. Bulldozers demolished the neighborhood to fuel economic development, as the renewal projects promised thousands of federal dollars.

But historians and locals alike have bemoaned the sheet-metal structure erected there as an architectural blunder that did not fit the area. The site was specifically identified in the 1999 Northern Tier Study as one that needed redevelopment, which Johnston said was the goal since the purchase of the property in 2002.

"The Parade Office Mall was an urban redevelopment that put a large building in the middle of a lot and put parking around it, and not keeping with the character of the city," said Johnston. "So we're looking forward to putting mixed uses there and executing what's in the city's master plan."

DeStefano said placing buildings along the street, widening sidewalks and having a pedestrian friendly layout can make the four-acre parcel a key component in connecting the northern tier to the downtown. She said she envisions an area of the city with its own character.

"We're not looking to recreate other parts of Portsmouth here or change the character of the city," she said. "We're looking to create a new district."

What she would like to recreate, however, is the energy that makes downtown Portsmouth so unique, she said, which can be done with smart planning and proper urban design. She said a marketing consultant was hired to ensure the project has components of the city needs. "It's part of the city that's ready for growth."

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