When Joe Faro first looked at the 170 acres that he is crafting into Tuscan Village, a brand-new urban center in Salem, New Hampshire, it held 1,400 horse stalls in 62 different buildings, all in various stages of decay.
The site of Rockingham Park, a storied thoroughbred racetrack founded in 1906, was completely abandoned, recalls Faro, CEO and founder of Tuscan Brands. “Triple Crown winners ran there,” Faro says. “But over the course of the last 30 years, that business went into decline.” This yielded a rare opportunity, a vast blank slate with its own exit off the highway. “It’s almost serendipity,” Faro says. “It takes vision, of course, but it also takes timing.”
Faro had been thinking about crafting a mixed-use development for more than a decade, when he built his first Tuscan Kitchen on part of a 10-acre parcel he purchased on Main Street in Salem. “We had always had this vision of a live, work, stay, play destination,” he says, noting that combination makes sense for supporting the four pillars of his business empire: hospitality, real estate development, food production, and philanthropy. So, when this opportunity arose, it was impossible to pass up.
However, all that real estate was a bit more than the organization wanted to handle, Faro said, explaining, “four-and-a-half-million square feet is really impossible for any one group or individual to develop.”
So Tuscan Brands made strategic partnerships, and sold off select parcels to desirable businesses like Market Basket, all with an eye toward crafting from scratch exactly the blend the team thought will be most successful. “There are leaders and followers in the real estate business,” Faro says. “If you can’t make the deals, all you have is dirt.”
The Tuscan team has certainly made the deals, as the Village has been filling out with a wide range of businesses, from Williams-Sonoma and L.L. Bean to Mass General Brigham. Tuscan Brands still controls the majority of the land, expecting to own and operate just under 3 million square feet when the development is complete in 2027.
Already, in addition to Mass General and those retailers, the complex holds many restaurants, other shops, apartments, townhomes, a hotel, and a pedestrian-friendly center featuring large community gathering spaces.
It’s already become a big draw. Nearly 10,000 people visited the Village’s 2023 Christmas tree lighting, where they enjoyed 100 street vendors and 15 food trucks, and the infrastructure handled the crowds gracefully. “That’s what makes us different from other developments,” Faro says. “We were able to really visualize and master plan our own downtown . . . because we owned all the land. We weren’t buying a pad in the middle of another development or in a city.”
The project recently unveiled the “Central Village” phase, anchored by the Artisan Hotel, a 165-room property featuring two new restaurants—a Tuscan Kitchen and The Rooftop, a bar with 360-degree views of the whole development—as well as the Residences at 18 Artisan, a luxury apartment building. Guests and residents alike appreciate amenities like free outdoor concerts in the summertime, and a small lake, stocked with fish and fed by a natural spring uncovered during the construction process.
The lake is more than just visually attractive. It’s also outfitted with a dock, a beach, and that L.L. Bean store, which offers paddleboards to try out, as well as flyfishing lessons, canoeing, and kayaking. Experiential retail, like those kayaking lessons on Tuscan Lake or classes at the Cooking School at Tuscan Market Salem, go hand in hand with the community space, creating a destination people want to return to again and again. “A lot has to go right in order to create a vision like that,” Faro says. “First, you have to have cooperation and collaboration with the state of New Hampshire and the Town of Salem to create a zoning overlay that envisions this thriving community downtown destination.”
In fact, Faro says, collaboration across the board is a key to his success. “What we really do well, I think, is collaborate,” he says. “We collaborate with the community, we collaborate with our employees, we collaborate with our customers, we collaborate with our tenants and any other codevelopers.”
Ultimately, Faro says, it’s about making the right connections. “My journey has been a puzzle that we’re always trying to solve,” he explains. “You have to put all the pieces together to make that beautiful picture. Sometimes the puzzle will evolve and change, but you always have the vision of that beautiful picture at the end.”