Portsmouth council approves garage land deal


Portsmouth moved a step closer to building its second parking garage on April 18. City councilors voted 8-0 to give city manager John Bohenko the authority to execute a purchase and sale agreement with Deer Street Associates for the $4.9 million parcel of land on which the city plans to build a new parking garage. The vote allows Bohenko to sign the purchase and sale and post-closing agreements once all documents are finalized.

Councilors and city staff discussed the deal during a work session before the council’s regular meeting. Much of the discussion among councilors focused on whether the city is receiving the best deal it can on the land. The purchase price is approximately twice the assessed value.

“Could we have done better? I don’t know,” said Bohenko, adding that he had “very limited leverage” when searching for suitable locations for a second garage. “I think it’s very important to recognize (Deer Street Associates principal) Kim Rogers and his group want to work with the city. They have a vision for that area.”

In May 2015, councilors approved bonding $23 million to build a new 600-space parking garage at 165 Deer St. in the city’s North End. Revenue from the garage and other city parking facilities will pay for the project, according to city officials.

Mayor Jack Blalock said the deal is “very good.” The owner of the Old Ferry Landing restaurant, Blalock said he’s heard from other business owners that “the economic vitality of Portsmouth is eventually going to get stuck if we can’t move people through the city.”

Bohenko said that plans for micro-apartments and other affordable housing units near the garage are still in progress.

“It’s separate from the development of the garage; we didn’t want to slow down the garage relative to that,” he said. “There could be a lot of opportunity over there, and I think we could build it in.”

Councilor Josh Cyr recused himself from the vote because he owns a property on Hanover Street, near the Deer Street parcel.

Councilor Jim Splaine said that he’s concerned about the price of the parcel. Before the vote, Splaine proposed an amendment asking the city to get an updated appraisal on the parcel before signing any agreements. Councilors voted against Splaine’s amendment.

Councilors also cautioned that the Deer Street garage will not be the end of Portsmouth’s parking shortage. “Once we add more population to that area, and once we try to take residential folks and give them a place to park and put workers there, we will fill (the garage) up and we will need another garage,” said councilor Christine Dwyer.

City attorney Robert Sullivan said a number of details need to be worked out before the sale is finalized. Bohenko said he’d like to see the garage ready within two years of completing the purchase.