The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro.(Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
The River Garden, on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Monday May 20, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Who ever is chosen to take over the Robert H. Gibson River Garden next month will not have to repay the state the $150,000 in public money that was used to purchase the property in 1999.

The Legislature, when it approved the 2014 budget this week, included a provision that repeals any repayment stipulations from the original 1999 appropriation. The repayment repeal was included in the 2014 Buildings and General Services Budget.

Ever Since Building a Better Brattleboro announced in April that it would be divesting itself from the Main Street property there have been questions surrounding the $150,000 that the Legislature appropriated to help purchase the building.

Attorneys from Brattleboro to Montpelier largely agreed that the money would not have to be repaid whether it was sold to a for-profit, or a non-profit organization, but there were still some questions about the responsibilities of the new owner to repay the public money.

The provision to repeal the Robert H. Gibson repayment puts any of those questions to rest, said BABB Vice President Kate O'Connor.

"We knew the new owner would not have to repay the money, but we still thought it made sense to put it into legislation anyway," O'Connor said. "This clarifies things and now people cannot dispute that the money has to be paid back."

When Building a Better Brattleboro purchased the former Rite Aid building it used the $150,000 to complete the deal.

The appropriation was made more complicated because the money passed through the town, and the original language of the bill said that "Building a Better Brattleboro, Inc., its successors and assigns, shall not convey this property to a for-profit entity, unless it shall reimburse the town of Brattleboro the sum of $150,000, without interest, at the time of said conveyance, if it ever were to occur."

"It was pass-through money in the first place, and everyone agreed that the town wouldn't have to be involved at this point," said O'Connor. "Still, everyone agreed that putting it in legislation was the way to go."

O'Connor said a committee has been named to go through the three requests for proposal for taking over the River Garden from BABB.

She said the names of the committee members are not being released so they can work privately and not get pressured from the public.

The committee will go through the three requests for proposal and grade each one on a scale. Those recommendation will then be passed on to the full BABB board for consideration.

The committee and the board may bring in one, or all of the three groups, for an interview before voting.

O'Connor said BABB still hopes to name the winner of the RFP process in the first week of June.

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