BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Selectboard has agreed to enter into contract negotiations with Fulcrum Arts to allow the group to develop the former Archery Building across from the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center. The board has not yet approved the Fulcrum Arts proposal, but rather authorized Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag to continue discussions with the arts group.
The board voted 3-1 in favor of the Fulcrum Arts plan. Board member Dora Boubuolis voted against it and board member Ken Schneck was not present at the meeting.
Fulcrum Arts is made up of glassblower Randi Solin and ceramic artist Natalie Blake. The two have studios in the Cotton Mill and want to expand into downtown.
The board made its decision Tuesday after the only other applicant, Brattleboro Clayworks, decided to withdraw its plan.
In a letter to the Selectboard dated Nov. 19, Clayworks member Alan Steinberg said Clayworks learned that some of its financing might not be available, and Steinberg said the group supported the other proposal.
"It is clear to us that our fellow artists, Natalie Blake and Randi Solin, are in a good position to assume responsibility for the building," Steinberg wrote for the group. "We hope that we may still be able to contribute to developing a downtown arts campus, possibly as part of the rehabilitation of the riverfront.
Following a public inspection that brought out dozens of interested parties, only two applications came to the town with plans to use the former Archery Building.
Before voting on the Fulcrum proposal the board talked about why the town was moving ahead.
Bouboulis said the public should have a chance to weigh in and board member David Gartenstein said there should have been more discussion among the board before moving ahead. But board Chairman Dick DeGray and board member Chris Chapman supported the Fulcrum Arts proposal, and Gartenstein voted in favor of it in the end.
The board voted to allow Fulcrum Arts to move ahead after interviewing Blake for about 30 minutes before the Selectboard meeting Tuesday night. Solin and Blake say they could start work in the spring and expect work to last through June 2014.
"We have been waiting and waiting and waiting," Blake said. "We're ready. We have all our ducks in a row."
Fulcrum Arts wants to build a 576-square-foot addition and expects to spend about $539,000 on the project.
During Tuesday's interview Blake told the board about Fulcrum Arts' long history of trying to find a space in downtown Brattleboro. Fulcrum Arts had been close to acquiring two other buildings over the past six years, and both deals fell through.
Blake said the group learned a lot and is now ready to move ahead on the Archery Building project.
The group already applied for Historic Tax Credits, and while they did not receive them this year, Blake says Fulcrum is well positioned to apply again next time.
The group wants to use about 80 percent of its new space for studios and galleries for Solin and Blake, with the additional 20 percent for a new gallery, which Solin and Blake plan to rent out. Fulcrum Arts hopes to turn the Archery Building into a school that offers weekend and evening classes and which invites guest artists to lead workshops.
During the interview Blake said she was concerned about the lack of parking in the area. She says there is not enough parking for what they want to do, and called the lack of parking a "stumbling block."
"It's a dilemma for our whole lovely town," she said.
Blake also said she had questions about how the arts group and the town would proceed with environmental tests and historic preservation approvals.
Town Manager Barbara Sondag said Fulcrum Arts and the town would work together, and try to work out a contact during negotiations.
"No one has a desire not to see this happen," said Sondag. "The neighbors there would like to see this happen sooner than later."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.