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‘Missing middle’: Workforce priced condos among 95 approved at Cinemagic site in Portsmouth

Jeff McMenemy

PORTSMOUTH — A new five-story, 95-unit condominium development — including 19 units that will be sold at workforce housing prices — has been approved to be built at the former Cinemagic movie theater site off Route 1.

The city’s Planning Board granted site plan approval for the condominium project, which developers’ representatives said is meant to create housing for “the missing middle” in Portsmouth.

Attorney John Bosen, who represented the project’s developer, Torrington Properties Inc., at a recent board meeting, stated that the condos “are not intended to be glossy high-end condominiums that you would see downtown.”

“These are going to be moderately priced,” Bosen said, without stating how much the market units and work-force units will be sold for because of rising material and labor costs.

Cinemagic closed its theaters across the region, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Planning Board, developers discussed pricing of condos

Bosen told the board developers are “very proud of this development, the first of its kind to offer 20% of our units as statutory workforce housing for sale units that will actually be below market value.”

“We believe that providing 19 workforce housing units for sale will be the first of its kind (of) this size in the city,” Bosen added.

He pointed to a 2016 housing study commissioned by the city which “recognized we need to have more housing to attract a talented workforce of people.”

“We need more housing, not just in the workforce area,” he said. “We need more housing, period.”

Planning Board members raised the prospect of selling the workforce units at rates based on what people who earn 80% of the area median income, rather than 100%, as initially proposed by developers.

That way, they said, the units would be sold at lower costs.

Jay Bisognano, founder and CEO of Torrington Properties, said if the units sold at 80% of AMI rather than 100%, it would result “in less workforce housing units.”

“We’re super proud to be able to deliver 20% workforce housing” of the 95 units planned for the site, he said.

“I think it’s a huge win to be able to do it,” Bisognano added. “I know it has not been done before. We’re proud to do it. We want to do it.”

Bosen stressed the project as proposed meets “all the requirements of the ordinance.”

“You’re not giving up anything,” he told the board.

Bosen acknowledged that “there are condominiums in this city that are not downtown that are being sold in excess of a million dollars.”

“This is happening all over the country in desirable places to live, that are safe and clean and offer good schools and that’s what Portsmouth is all about,” he said. “This is a very desirable place.”

Plans for the project

Bisognano estimated construction will start in late 2023. The Cinemagic building must be demolished first.

In addition to the workforce units, the development will feature a public plaza and pickleball courts that will be open to the public, according to Patrick Crimmins, the vice president of Tighe & Bond, who also represented developers at the recent meeting.

There will be an additional park area and dog park as part of the project at 2454 Lafayette Road.

The site is in a shopping plaza off Route 1 near the Water Country amusement park.