The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Monday May 6, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Robert H. Gibson River Garden is one step closer to getting a new owner or manager.

April 30 was the deadline for turning in requests for proposal for taking over the Main Street property and three proposals were handed over to Building a Better Brattleboro, the downtown development organization that owns the building.

BABB Vice President Kate O'Connor said the group was happy with the number of requests that came in and she said a committee will be formed to go through them and then make a recommendation to the full BABB board.

"We think three is a good number. We're very happy there was this much interest in the project," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said the committee members have not yet been named, and she said it will likely be made up of some BABB board members, downtown merchants and some community members with experience in finance, banking, business, and/or real estate.

She said the committee has not been formally named and she did not want to release any of the committee members' names yet.

She also said she was not yet ready to release the names of the individuals or groups that put in the RFPs, though the Strolling of the Heifers organization announced earlier this year that it would be looking into taking over the space and having a year round presence in downtown Brattleboro to promote agriculture and sustainability.

Building a Better Brattleboro acquired the former Rite Aid building in 1999 and the public space opened in 2001.

BABB has been trying to maintain the building and at least break even while keeping the space open to the public, but the organization says it has been losing money every year.

When BABB submitted its budget to the Brattleboro Selectboard this year, funding to run the River Garden was not included and the group said it was going to seek ideas from the public on who should take over the property.

BABB has said that it might sell the Main Street property, or possibly maintain ownership and lease or rent it to the group with the best idea.

The committee will look over the three proposals and grade each one according to how it meets the guidelines set out in the RFP.

O'Connor said the selection process will be held behind closed doors to protect the financial and business plans of the RFPs.

Finalists will be asked to give a presentation to the selection committee in mid-May and BABB still hopes to name the winner during the first week of June, after the full BABB board votes on the RFPs.

O'Connor said BABB is still accepting requests from outside organizations to rent out the space for events, and she said she hopes the public space remains active while a new owner or manager is found.

"There are a lot of logistics to take care of and it might take a while but we definitely want to make sure people know the River Garden is available," O'Connor said. "We've been working on this for a while now and everyone is looking forward to taking this next step."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.