On October 24th, 2013, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan helped break ground to kick off construction work on a major upgrade of the Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93. The new and improved rest areas will provide New Hampshire residents and visitors a wide range of services, including multiple dining options, an interactive visitors center, a NH Liquor & Wine Outlet store, a country store, a bank, and fueling stations.
“The Hooksett Welcome Centers project is an innovative public-private partnership that will help boost our economy and support our tourism industry by providing a high-quality welcome for all visitors to the Granite State,” Governor Hassan said. “With the project estimated to create 137 long-term jobs, the new Welcome Centers will help spur economic growth and offer a uniquely New Hampshire experience that showcases what makes our state special.”
Under a 35-year lease with the State of New Hampshire, Granite State Hospitality, LLC, a partnership between Alex Ray, owner and founder of The Common Man family of restaurants in New Hampshire, and Rusty McLear, co-owner and president of Mill Falls at the Lake, is funding the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of both the northbound and southbound service areas, with the exception of the NH Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, which will be funded and operated by the NH Liquor Commission.
“This is a unique and innovative project involving all New Hampshire-based companies from the owner/operator, bank, architects, construction, and other partners,” says Alex Ray. “As a long-time resident and business owner in New Hampshire, I’m really looking forward to a fresh statement for visitors and residents at these welcome centers and service areas.”
As part of the redevelopment project, the team will construct the new welcome centers in a mill-building architectural style, reminiscent of many historical mill buildings in New Hampshire, including the renovated Mill Falls Marketplace. The new buildings will feature an open, “sidewalk style” food court, featuring antique streetlights, live trees, and individual facades for the multiple food options, including a 1950s-style diner, an Italian Farmhouse restaurant, a deli, and a breakfast shop. A 24-hour convenience store, two new NH State Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, a bank branch, and an interactive visitors’ center are also part of the plan. Irving Oil fueling stations will be added at each location, and a test run of plug-in stations for electric vehicles will launch at the new facilities. When completed, the project will bring an estimated 137 new full-time jobs to the area.
“When you travel the Federal Highway system,” says Rusty McLear, “one expects and receives a quality driving experience and unfortunately a very predictable, mostly forgettable dining and information experience. The State of NH has a unique opportunity to distinguish itself from the crowd. It has a chance to be more interesting and better than the norm, a chance to stand up and say, “Look at our state—we are innovative, exciting, and proud of all our state has to offer.”
“The Welcome Centers are often the first impression that visitors have of the state and this new facility will put our best foot forward,” says New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose. “Providing modern and convenient facilities will help enhance our visitors’ experience. With tourism being the second-largest industry in the state, this will ensure that visitors have a positive impression of New Hampshire.”
“The mill building architectural style was selected for the new facilities because we felt it was a powerful part of NH’s character,” says McLear. “The mill structure depicted in the plan is found throughout the state, north to south, east to west, even today. This style captures a variety of historical and architectural features and blends them together for a unified concept . . . Our design will introduce tourists to our State in an exciting, different, and exceptional way, allowing the NH perspective to shine through with NH artisans displaying and demonstrating their art and crafts, a large working model of a mill waterwheel, and the distinctly NH fare The Common Man Family has been serving for over 40 years.
“We view these sites as a convenient ‘must stop’ for the commuter guest with a coffee and breakfast drive-through, homemade cider doughnuts, diner lunch, fuel, liquor, and NH gifts available in one location. The northbound side will allow local Hooksett traffic to access the NH State Liquor Store. We have introduced a NH bank to the tenant mix and have set aside space for meeting rooms. The Hooksett Service Area will be a destination, not just a rest stop . . . Truly, all aspects of the facilities build one on another to excite, inform, serve, and welcome our guests while evoking the state of New Hampshire and all that it has to offer.
Both Hooksett Welcome Centers, as well as the NH Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, will remain open throughout the construction project. The new Hooksett Welcome/Service Centers are scheduled to be completed in April 2015. For construction updates, site plans, and downloadable renderings and photos, please visit http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/operations/turnpikes/ort/hooksett15970.htm.
The Mill Falls Blogging Team