The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Friday March 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Building a Better Brattleboro will solicit requests for proposals for its public downtown property, The Robert H. Gibson River Garden.

After initially saying that it would hold public meetings to talk about the future of the River Garden, the BABB Board of Directors has instead decided to put together a formal RFP to figure out who should own, or rent, the popular Main Street property.

"BABB appreciates and values the community's interest in the future of the River Garden," Board President Donna Simons said in a press release. "We believe the most effective way to accurately and fairly respond to all of the suggestions and opinions we've received regarding the River Garden is to provide an informational package on our website and give everyone an opportunity to submit proposals regarding the building's future."

BABB board Vice President Kate O'Connor said the board discussed the River Garden at its February monthly meeting and decided that it made the most sense to seek formal proposals.

BABB hopes to have the RFPs available to the public on March 18.

The RFPs will include the building's history and specifications as well as BABB's annual financial obligations for the property.

The board will consider each proposal on its financial viability as well as on how the ideas fit in with the needs of downtown.

The board will accept completed proposals until April 30 and finalists will be asked to make a presentation to a selection committee in late May.

BABB hopes to make a decision by early June.

BABB announced earlier this year that it would have to either sell the River Garden, or rent the space out to an individual or organization that would be able to meet the annual expenses related to operating the building.

BABB, which is the designated downtown organization for the town's Downtown Program, said it was costing too much to heat, air condition and maintain the building, and the expenses were preventing it from doing the work it was supposed to do to promote downtown business.

The group was losing between $10,000 and $15,000 every year on the River Garden.

O'Connor said the winning proposal could either be from someone who wants to purchase the property, or even possibly rent it from BABB.

O'Connor said BABB is still waiting to hear if it needs to repay the state the $150,000 the group got to purchase the property, and that decision could have an impact on who the next operator or owner will be.

The conversation about divesting from the River Garden started three years ago, O'Connor said, when the group realized that operating the River Garden was draining finances from the group.

The board gave itself three years, at that point, to turn things around, and when a 2014 budget was put together the decision was made to pull out.

Now, O'Connor said, BABB is ready to take the next step.

"We have heard from a lot of people who have a lot of ideas about the River Garden," O'Connor said. "From our standpoint it is more constructive to have people present those ideas. This is not about what BABB should do. This is about doing what is right for the organization and for the property. We are not ruling anything out."

The RFP will be available on the BABB web site, www.Brattleboro.com, on March 18.

RFPs will also be available by calling 257-4886 on that date, or by writing the group at PO Box 961, Brattleboro, Vt. 05302.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)