BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Selectboard on Tuesday upheld a decision to deny a local non-profit organization's application to redevelop the former TLR paper mill complex at 14 Mill St.
The town of Rockingham put out requests for proposal in an attempt to help get the two Mill Street buildings it owns converted into taxable property. But Selectboard members rejected Sustainable Valley Group's submission -- the only one received -- after Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II and Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh decided the submission was incomplete because it did not meet certain requirements.
The submission was the Architectural and Feasibility Study for TLR Buildings, Bellows Falls Canal, and Proposed Connecticut River Heritage Center dated 2002 and prepared by an array of collaborators.
SVG's intentions were to develop a heritage center, but Stearns and Walsh do not believe that would count as a taxable property. SVG Director Gary Fox said Tuesday the request put out by the town was one for notice of intent to submit.
"We were asked to say we intended to create a submission," he said. "This river heritage center is an awesome project and I guess I disagree that it's a non-taxable use."
He said there are several potential partners -- mostly museums and other organizations -- that would assist in the heritage center's operation.
Joel Love, a member of public, said it seemed Fox had adequately delivered information and asked if there would be any further consideration to SVG's application, considering it was the only one submitted.
Walsh said requests of the variety sent out regarding the TLR buildings -- which occupy a .59-acre site -- are issued every day by towns across the country. He also said the posted RFP was, after a walk-through of the property, followed up by a list of at least 12 items any interested parties were required to meet, the most important one being the ability to secure a bond for the project.
"There was not adequate information that gave proof that the group that submitted it could renovate those buildings," he told Love. "There seems to be some confusion -- we weren't looking for a 2002 study to be taken to completion. There are issues with that study."
According to information from Stearns, the RFP went out in April. Then, a site visit was held on May 15, with a submission date for proposals of June 30, giving bidders more than two months to obtain all required information. The RFP dated April 2014 requested proposals from parties interested in developing the two mill buildings in the historic district of downtown Bellows Falls. It states both brick buildings were constructed around 1869 and are connected by wooden additions built between 1900 and 1950. The northern building is two stories tall, while the southern building is three stories. The wooden additions connecting the buildings are deteriorated and unsafe to enter, according to the RFP. The structures are located within a New Market Tax Credit-eligible census area and may qualify for federal and state historic tax credits because they are a part of a state-designated downtown district.
The RFP stated the criteria used to select a developer would include, but not be limited to, project viability, potential for job creation, sustainability and building appeal after redevelopment. It stated the developer chosen would enter into a public/private partnership with the town, which would work in conjunction with the Regional Economic Development Corporation to assist with the redevelopment project by seeking grant funding opportunities where they are available.
The town plans to maintain ownership of the buildings during redevelopment and for the 60 months after the process has ended. It will then sell the property to the selected developer for $1.
According to information from Stearns, the architectural firm listed on SVG's submission was not contacted by SVG until June 27 -- three days before submission was due and had no knowledge of what the project would entail when contacted by the town. Stearns states he and Walsh determined the submission did not meet the RFP's requirements and notified SVG via e-mail on July 2. Stearns said Fox asked to have a meeting with him on July 14 and then requested that the Selectboard reconsider.
According to the 2002 feasibility study, the project team recommended building the Connecticut River Heritage Center in the rehabilitated portion of 14 Mill St.
"Heritage centers, by nature, comprise more than an interpretation of our legacy from the past," the study states, "they also are venues for programs that highlight what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.