MERRIMACK – Developers hoping to turn a defunct hotel into housing for seniors will take a step forward, and people are invited to share their thoughts about the project.
HMS Winward LLC and New Stream RE Funding LLC propose to renovate the old Merrimack Hotel at Exit 11. The companies want to open an assisted living complex, called Merrimack Grand Senior Living, with apartments for people 55 and older.
Having received approval from the town Planning Board on conceptual plans this fall, along with a special exception from the zoning board, the developers have been focused on getting financing in order, said Dan Hassan, president and chief executive officer of HMS, a Vermont-based a senior-housing consulting and management company.
Part of that financing includes a community development block grant of $500,000, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the Town Council on Thursday.
Sponsored by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and state’s Community Development Finance Authority, block grants are designed to support housing, suitable living environments and economic opportunities, mainly for people of low and moderate incomes.
The developers have applied for a block grant – which is actually a loan – through the Rockingham Economic Development Corp. The loan would be used as equity, Hassan said, which could keep overhead tighter and later reduce rental rates.
“I think it’s really important for us to be able to take advantage of programs to stimulate the economy and create the jobs,” he said. “We have been looking in other communities for similar programs, and they’re not available in every community.”
The council needs to hold the public hearing for public comment before deliberating on whether it will support the developer’s grant application, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey. The council, he said, needs to support the grant for it to be considered in the award process.
As the developers pursue the block grant, they are also filing for a $20 million loan from HUD, which would be the primary mortgage on the project.
If HMS and New Stream receive local support to move forward with their financial strategies, they would start architectural and engineering plans, Hassan said, and possibly present them to the town this summer.
The goal is to turn the 203-room hotel into 118 apartments for older adults.
Financial cost projections haven’t been finalized, so Hassan is unsure of pricing for the units. He did say that rental rates would be a range, and based on the size of apartment – studio, one- or two-bedroom – and the level of care needed.
An independent senior in a studio taking advantage of meals, transportation, utilities, social activities and emergency response could pay $1,000 or $2,000 a month, whereas a senior in the “memory care” dementia/Alzheimer’s unit would pay in the ballpark of $6,000 a month.
Hassan cautioned that those figures are estimates based on rate structures in other HMS facilities and said they could change in two years when Merrimack Grand Senior Living is projected to open.
If the project were completed as planned, Hassan would expect to employ at least 75 people.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes as the big old building sits there quiet, like nothing’s going on,” Hassan said.
Indeed, the utilitarian style hotel has looked rather lifeless for quite some time.
Since its construction in 1979, the140,000-square-foot building has been a Hilton Hotel, a Ramada Inn, the Merrimack Inn, the Merrimack Hotel and Conference Center.
More changes occurred in the early 2000s, when The Procaccianti Group of Providence, R.I., took over and completed a $3 million makeover to join the property to the Radisson hotel group.
Finally, within the past three years, the Marriott hotel company took over. It filed plans to add additional floors and a 50,000-square-foot indoor water park, a project that never came to fruition.
The most recent owners, Merrimack Hotel Investors LLC, in Dublin, Ohio, foreclosed in November, according to the town Assessing Department.
New Stream picked it up at auction for $6.1 million.