Among the coolest places New Hampshire residents are living is The Flats at Hanover Commons. A property of Elm Grove Companies, this 124-year-old, five story building stands at the corner of Hanover and Union streets in downtown Manchester.
On a cold, but sunny Friday afternoon, I visited the Restoration Cafe on the first floor of The Flats building. The rustic feel of the lounge space, the view of Bronstein Park diagonally across the intersection, and the snow melting in the courtyard made the Cafe a lovely place to hang out. When a barefooted man came down the stairs with his golden retriever to grab a coffee and check his mail, The Flats evolved from your typical mixed-use building to a welcoming, homey place to stay, work, and play.
The Flats is the first of its kind in our area — and a first for Elm Grove Companies. I spoke with Kir Harris of Elm Grove Companies that afternoon. Kir was kind enough to give me a walking tour of The Flats at Hanover Commons and another of Elm Grove’s properties, the Pearson’s Place Apartments.
With a clear passion for this work, Kir talked about the concept of living large in small places. The studio units range in size from 280 to 410 square feet, but they don’t lack in amenities or community space. When the Cafe closes, a garage door comes down to separate the Cafe from the lounge, so that this space is always available to residents (who, in case you are curious, communicate via a private Facebook group). These features were added with the intention to create community for the residents. Kir mentioned the residents use this space for potluck dinners and other gatherings. In addition to the Cafe, the ground floor is home to a handful of offices, including the Stay Work Play office; a communal storage area for bicycles; and a fitness center.
The units themselves highlight the creativity and innovation that fuels Elm Grove’s work in downtown Manchester and Concord. The furniture is multi-purpose, for example the couch becomes a desk or bed. Overall, the units were designed to maximize functionality and livability of the small spaces. The units are also energy star rated. According to Elm Grove’s website, The Flats are “small spaces, well utilized for a lean lifestyle, and green because we care about the high cost of energy on our wallets and on our planet.”
All 32 units are leased, primarily by young professionals although at least one of the tenants is an older gentleman living out a nomadic, retired lifestyle. Tenants are transient workers, like nurses; recent college graduates working in Manchester; and recent divorcees and empty nesters. The apartments are attractive to young members of the workforce for their trendy features, but The Flats is also an affordable place to live with rents starting below $1,000. Chris Schleyer, Elm Grove Companies’ chief operating officer, told NH Business review in a 2016 interview, “we need [young people] to be a part of the growth of Manchester and New Hampshire.” Elm Grove Companies did build a parking lot, but Kir said they may not in the future since many tenants lead a car-free life — staying, working, and playing in downtown Manchester.
Like many of their projects, The Flats is garnished with little bits of the building’s history. The beams in the Cafe and the stained glass, for example, were reclaimed from the original space. This nod to the past is a reminder that this once blighted area is now home to a beautiful live, work, and play space in the heart of downtown Manchester.