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Despite Closing Rumors, Plant Zero to Expand

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Artists know it always happens sooner or later: Their paint-splattered studios in grungy neighborhoods get redeveloped as apartments or — shudder — Starbucks coffee shops.

But that's not the case at Manchester mainstay Plant Zero Art Center, says Tom Papa. He's president of Fountainhead Development, which owns the building.

Rumors have swirled for months that Plant Zero, the complex of artists' studios and exhibit space at 0 E. Fourth St. in Manchester, was going to be closed and converted into apartments. Those rumors intensified in recent weeks, when Plant Zero began refunding deposits for events scheduled there in November and December.

It's true that Plant Zero no longer will be rented out for private functions, Papa says. After several years of serving as host of special events, he says, Fountainhead decided it was more trouble than it was worth: "We're just not set up for that."

Fountainhead is exploring other uses for the cavernous event space in the former warehouse, which spans 7,000 square feet, including dividing it into more studios. Plant Zero also rents about 60 studios to local artists.

It isn't about the revenue, Papa says, because Plant Zero loses money every year. But the company has made a calculated decision to make the space available to artists, he says, because it makes the neighborhood more appealing to residents.

"We have no plans for making apartments over there," Papa says — mainly because Fountainhead already is building a slew of apartments to add to its Manchester portfolio. The company's about to submit plans to the city for its next two large projects.

The first is a collection of about 200 apartments, plus studio spaces, on the two city blocks occupied by Miller Manufacturing. The second, called South Canal, will put nearly 100 apartments in the paperboard plant that stands on a little island on the western side of the Mayo Bridge. It's envisioned as a "a Gen X sports kind of thing," Papa says, giving active residents easy access to the river and trails.

Papa says he hopes to begin construction on both before the end of the year.

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