Historic corruption between Mayor Gatsas, Aldermen and developers in Manchester?

Hill-Lassonde Home that was destroyed. Photo from ManchesterLink.

Yesterday, a Manchester reader brought an important issue to New Hampshire Political Buzz, one that appears to link corruption between Mayor Ted Gatsas, the Manchester Board of Alderman and Elm Grove Companies. All of this came to light after a Heritage Commission meeting at the end of July. The story begins with an historic home on Hanover Street called Hill-Lassonde.

The Hill-Lassonde home was located at 269 Hanover Street in Manchester. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance listed the home as one of the “Seven to Save” in 2014. The home was bank owned and no one had lived in it for the past few years. From the Union Leader:

The state Division of Historical Resources had described the building as “one of New Hampshire’s least altered and most typical vernacular Italianate dwellings.” It was on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was home at one point to the modernist painter Omer T. Lassonde, who former New Hampshire Sunday News reporter Ben Bradlee praised in 1947 as the man who put New Hampshire on the map artistically, according to material supplied by the Preservation Alliance.

Hill-Lassonde was also the home of former Manchester Mayor James W. Hill. The Seven to Save program is one that works to save homes of historical value in the state. According to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance:

Historic resources are eligible for the program if they are over 50 years old and are significant representations of the state’s heritage. Besides historical or architectural significance, criteria for Seven to Save also include severity of the current threat to the property and the extent to which the listing will make a difference in preserving or protecting it.

Despite the documented historical value of this home on a national, state and local level, somehow it was purchased by Elm Grove Companies and demolished to make a parking lot. That’s correct, a home listed in the National Registry of Historic Places and a known historic home to save in New Hampshire was allowed to be destroyed by the City of Manchester. And that’s where things start to get dicey. No low-level city employee is going to allow the destruction of a National Historic home without the “go ahead” from higher ups.

Heritage Commission meeting

During a meeting of the Heritage Commission, an organization created in 1996 “in order to insure the proper recognition, use and protection of legacy resources within the City,” it was discovered that there were clearly issues with the sale of the Hill-Lassonde property. Issues that were discussed during the meeting that show that Mayor Gatsas and the Manchester Board of Aldermen knew exactly what was going on with the demolition but chose to do nothing to stop it. Manchester Alderman Pat Long (also a New Hampshire State Representative) happens to sit on the Heritage Commission as well. Long’s own words were quite revealing.

During the meeting Long claims Mayor Gatsas and the Aldermen didn’t know what was going on yet admits they tried to purchase the property but had issues with HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development). He also claims there were other private investors who wanted to purchase the home but also had HUD issues.

Long also states in the video that Mayor Gatsas called the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to ask them not to list the Hill-Lassonde home as one to be preserved. Long doesn’t state when this conversation took place. It has long been known that this home was of such historical value that it needed to be preserved. He doesn’t state why Gatsas wanted the home unlisted.

Elm Grove Companies purchases Hill-Lassonde at rock-bottom price

The City of Manchester and others tried to by the home which was eventually put up for auction. The home was valued at $269,300 yet was sold to 2DC LLC (Elm Grove Companies) for only $150,000 even though that didn’t meet the auction reserve. Apparently the bids got close to $300,000 during the auction, per Michael Duffy II during the Commission meeting.

The registered agent for 2DC LLC is Newton Kershaw III who is also the CEO and head of acquisitions and finance for Elm Grove Companies. Kershaw is the agent who purchased Hill-Lassonde for Elm Grove.

The reason the Hill-Lassonde home was brought up at this particular meeting was because Chairman Michael Farley wanted to release a statement to the public that excoriates local elected officials along with the developers for destroying the home for a parking lot. Long, of course, being one of those elected officials who was “in the know” about the destruction, wanted no part of blaming the people involved. It’s clear during the meeting that Long’s allegiance is to the developers:

I don’t want to burn the principle that bought this. I don’t know how they got it for $150,000 cost.

Long also states that the Heritage Commission shouldn’t burn any bridges by making a negative statement against Elm Grove because they might need them in the future for other projects. He seems to be against accountability and transparency. All parties involved in this destruction should be held accountable to the people of Manchester.

The HUD issue turned out to be relative to a loan. The HUD loan appears as only $4,000 according to property sales records and “suddenly disappeared” when Elm Grove Companies wanted to purchase it.

How is it that the city and two other private investors weren’t able to get the HUD issue dealt with yet Elm Grove was able to? Why is it that the bank suddenly decided to come down in price when they refused to during the auction? All of these questions deserve to be answered.

Elm Grove Companies and Hill-Lassonde

Long tries to push the blame onto the Heritage Commission for the historical home being flattened except he contradicts his own statements multiple times during the meeting. It is obvious why Elm Grove wanted to purchase the property. Elm Grove is doing business. They purchased a property literally two minutes away from the Hill-Lassonde property in order to build tiny apartments   for people to rent. They somehow got this building at a steal as well.

Unfortunately, there was no parking associated with this building. With the Hill-Lassonde property so close and up for sale, it was the perfect place to provide parking for their new tenants, forget about historical preservation. Below is a photo from google maps of the close proximity to Elm Grove’s new apartment complex:

Destruction of Hill-Lassonde for a parking lot and 2 minute walk home
Destruction of Hill-Lassonde for a parking lot and 2 minute walk home

During the meeting Long admits the Board of Aldermen met with Elm Grove to discuss the purchase of the site. Long informs the Heritage Commission that Elm Grove’s plans were to demolish the historical building and turn it into a parking lot. So Long, who sits on the Heritage Commission and knew the building was one of the “Seven to Save,” also knew they planned on destroying the building if they purchased it. He says the meeting was a few months before the building was purchased by Elm Grove. Was it a private, non-public meeting that happened in February?

Interesting that one of the Heritage board members also happens to work for Elm Grove companies. Matt Vlangas doesn’t just work for them, he is their Vice President of Finance and Accounting so he sees all money that goes in and out of the company which means he also knew the company bought Hill-Lassonde. As a Heritage member, he knew the building was on several historical preservation lists as well. He was the only one to abstain from calling his own bosses out during the meeting.

As one of the commission members notes during the meeting:

The appearance of the whole deal is that the developers and the city were in cahoots. It seems certain people can do whatever they want. They get a free pass.

Part of the message from the Heritage Commission about the demolition of the Hill-Lassonde historical home was the following:

The Manchester Heritage Commission condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the recent shameful destruction of the historically, culturally and architecturally significant Hill-Lassonde house which, just until last month, stood for over 150 years across from Bronstein Park on Hanover Street.

Farley goes on to discuss the historical value of the home and continues:

All of this was known to the developers prior to their destruction of the building, indeed prior to their purchase of the building, so their actions cannot be seen as anything less than wonton and deliberate and a willful affront to the people of Manchester.

 

At no point during this entire process was the historical value of the Hill-Lassonde home not known to everyone involved. Somehow Elm Grove Companies was able to get the home for an outrageously low price and the City of Manchester then gave them permission to destroy the home and turn it into an asphalt wasteland to house hunks of metal.

Mayor Gatsas and the Manchester Board of Aldermen knew exactly what was going on with this property yet did nothing to stop the sale to Elm Grove. They didn’t even alert the Heritage Commission that Elm Grove planned on destroying the building.

The Mayor and the Board of Aldermen need to be held accountable for their actions and inactions in regards to the Hill-Lassonde home. New Hampshire as a very long and rich history. One that “appears” to be tarnished and destroyed thanks to cronyism and corruption between elected officials and developers.

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