LITTLETON — After being vacant for two years and facing an uncertain future, the former Hitchiner Manufacturing Co. facility at 24 Beacon St. now has a new owner with big redevelopment plans.
During a press conference and gathering at the Littleton Opera House on Thursday, the buyer of the property, was announced - Bob Chapman, of Gorham. Chapman is owner of the former Wausau Paper mill site in Groveton - now a location for Vermont-based NSA Industries.
Chapman said some big decisions will be made in the next four to six weeks on how to proceed with the development plan for Littleton that he said will involve mixed use.
Possible uses for the 16-acre property, made up of two parcels and a complex of seven buildings, include an educational facility and possible expansion of the community college system as well as housing, an incubator site for businesses, and a home for other business tenants.
Chapman said after the four-to-six week period “we’ll know exactly what we’re doing” and once the decisions are made “it will go fast.”
Community members should expect to see site work this summer, he said.
“We want to fill the whole site,” said Chapman.
Littleton Industrial Development Corp. President Greg Eastman attended Thursday’s announcement wearing a smile and his Christmas tie, saying it’s Christmas in Littleton.
District 1 Executive Councilor Joe Kenney called Thursday an exciting day for Littleton.
“We can all be rest assured that this site is in good hands,” he said.
Kenney - who said he was filling in for Beno Lamontagne, North Country industrial agent for the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, who was unable to attend Thursday because he was in the hospital recovering from surgery - said Chapman has developed a successful track record during his four decades of working in the Berlin-Milan area.
Lamontagne had been working to find a buyer and told Peabody and Smith Realty, which had been marketing the property, that he has one.
Until Chapman came along, Peabody and Smith wasn’t sure what was going to happen to the property, said Peabody and Smith commercial agent Mary Doherty.
Giving a history of the property from 1910 to the present was Brien Ward, founder of the Littleton Economic Development Task Force.
Hitchiner was the longest owner of the property and Chapman is now the eighth owner and the first local owner in more than 50 years, said Ward.
“Having local ownership for decisions on that property is absolutely critical,” said Ward. “It’s great to have local ownership and I can’t wait to see what he does with it.”
In addition to the former Wausau Paper mill site, Chapman, who owns Chapman Scrap Metal and Recycling, has purchased other properties to rejuvenate, among them the Bass Shoe and Car-Freshener buildings in Berlin.
The Hitchiner property is Chapman’s first project in Grafton County.
Kenney said there is no one he knows of who could turn around the Wausau mill site into what it became today and said Chapman’s determination will make the Littleton site a success.
“He cares about the North Country, his heart is in the North Country,” said Kenney.
To make it a success, Chapman said partnerships are crucial, and he will be partnering with local and state entities.
The transaction between Chapman and Hitchiner was completed Wednesday. The transaction has not yet been posted on the Grafton County Registry of Deeds.
In a statement, Hitchiner CEO John Morison said, “We are very pleased with the outcome of the sale of of our Littleton facility. It was our hope to be able to turn over the keys to a buyer who would consider the best interests o the community and bring jobs back to the area.
“The town of Littleton has been a good home for us for over 30 years, and we are pleased to be able to have played a small part in accomplishing this and feel that Mr. Chapman is absolutely the best buyer to make this happen,” he said.
Peabody and Smith Realty had been working to sell the property following Hitchiner’s announcement in 2015 that it would be closing Littleton operations the following year to consolidate its operations at is Milford headquarters.
More than 100 jobs in Littleton were lost when it closed.
Hitchiner set up shop at the Beacon Street site in 1984 and at one time had been the town’s largest employer.
The property also features five loading dock doors, two drive-in doors, heavy power, and municipal water and sewer, and is fully sprinklered and able to accommodate multiple tenants.
Being studied is if some of the buildings, constructed to meet 20th-century needs, need to be taken down and new ones put up, said Chapman.
Also attending Thursday’s announcement were John Freeman, president of Northern Community Investment Corp.; Littleton Selectman Schuyler Sweet and Town Manager Andrew Dorsett; Brian Bresnahan, North Country representative for U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster, D-NH; Nathan Karol, executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce; and Chuck Lloyd, president of the White Mountains Community College.
“Expansion of the community college system is very much on the table,” said Kenney.
WMCC’s primary campus is in Berlin, but it has had a presence in Littleton for nearly 20 years, and in that time there has been substantial growth in Littleton, said Lloyd.
Chapman, he said, has been a friend of the college.
“We are very excited about the possibilities to come,” said Lloyd.
The goal is to keep young people in the region and provide them with jobs, he said.