Published in The Courier Jan. 22, 2003
reprinted with permission
Home Depot poised to build at Exit 43
Two developers hold options on nearly 100 acres
By LYN BIXBY, Courier Staff
LITTLETON—The area surrounding Exit 43 on Interstate 93 appears destined for commercial development, and it looks like Home Depot will lead the way.
“We have not signed a contract officially yet,” Shelly Schumaker, a spokeswoman for Home Depot in Atlanta, Ga., said last week. “The developer is working with the seller at this point. So we are in the process of putting together plans to submit to the local municipality for approvals and permits… It should happen very soon.”
She declined to identify the developer or the probable location of the store, although she did say it would be a “smaller size format,” about 100,000 square feet, as opposed to the larger 130,000-square-foot stores.
Two development companies, one in Connecticut and the other in Massachusetts, have options on two sizeable sites next to the Exit 43 interchange and are believed to be competing for the Home Depot store, as well as talking with other large retailers.
Robert M. MacPherson’s Cape Breton Corp. of Braintree, Mass., which has developed a number of Home Depot stores, including the one in Tilton, has an option to buy the 42-acre Highland Croft property on the south side of Exit 43.
“I have it under agreement, and I’m working on doing some kind of a retail project, but I haven’t made any deals yet,” he said Friday. “Home improvement stores, I’m trying to get that. I’m trying to get a supermarket, several things. But it would be premature to say it’s a Home Depot at this moment.”
Nevertheless, MacPherson made a pre-development move on the property Tuesday, seeking demolition permits for Highland Croft’s buildings, according to Littleton Assistant Town Manager Jason Hoch.
The other developer, Konover & Associates of Farmington, Ct., has an option on about 55 acres owned by the McLure family on the north side of Exit 43.
“We’re not at a phase in that project to be able to discuss any specific plans,” Lori Murphy, Konover’s manager of corporate marketing and public relations, said Tuesday. “We’ve been discussing the project with various national retailers, and we’re exploring all the possibilities at this time. So in terms of what Home Depot’s plans are, we cannot speak on their behalf.”
The real estate broker involved in both Exit 43 properties is Andy Smith of Peabody & Smith Realty of Franconia and Littleton.
Regarding Home Depot’s decision to put a store in Littleton, he said, “We’ve certainly taken another step. It’s a good step, positive, but it’s still a long way from being a done deal.”
The Highland Croft site, offered at $1.2 million, is featured as a premier property on Peabody & Smith’s Web site, which says: “This parcel is the key to commercial growth at Exit 43. Come and join the newly opened 30 million dollar Littleton Regional Hospital facility and the New Hampshire Health & Human Services district office located nearby.”
Burton Ingerson, a member of the Littleton Select Board and an ex-officio member of the planning board, said commercial development has been expected at Exit 43 for some time, particularly after the hospital relocated to a site off Route 18 two years ago.
He said most people he knows favor development at Exit 43, an observation that is supported by a brainstorming session conducted last spring by the North Country Council, a regional planning agency in Bethlehem. In a report of the session with a “Littleton working group, ” the council said, “They are highly in favor of extending their blessings to strip development on the hospital road and at the exit.”
The council report also said, “Littleton is concerned primarily with economic growth at I-93 exits 42 and 43, and not as much with controlling sprawl or preserving various natural and built resources in areas outside downtown or in areas of proposed development.”
Michael King, the council’s executive director, said his group has not studied the Exit 43 interchange, but said he hopes development pressure will spur a public debate and encourage what he calls “smart growth.”
“I don’t like to use the word ‘sprawl,’” he said, “because communities need to look at developing plans that are within some smart growth parameters in terms of protecting land and insuring that there’s a minimal amount of disruption.”
Commercial development at Exit 43 could mirror the growing retail strip on Meadow Street by Exit 42, where Wal-Mart, Shaw’s and Staples are located and where a new office building, a hotel and a restaurant are expected to be built this year.
Many downtown Main Street merchants have said Wal-Mart has been good for their businesses by helping to turn Littleton into a regional shopping hub.
Ruth Taylor, the executive director of Littleton Main Street Inc., said the effect of commercial development at Exit 43 on downtown merchants depends on the type of stores that are built there.
“If it’s a Home Depot, there isn’t very much downtown that would be affected by that because we’ve got a different kind of mix that would not be in direct competition with it,” she said. “I think that the reaction of businesses on Main Street would probably be very similar to what it was when Wal-Mart came to town, and that is that you don’t compete with the big boys. You do something different. You do something better.”
A Home Depot store at Exit 43 would be a direct competitor for Bing Clark, the owner of Pennock Sales and Service, an appliance store on Main Street. But he is not intimidated. “I welcome Home Depot,” he said Monday. “It’s the same feeling as I had on the Wal-Mart store. With more traffic, we’re bound to see more people… People are comparison shopping. As long as we do our homework and offer them a good deal and continue to give excellent service, we anticipate being around for a long time.”