Brooks House financing nearly finalized
BRATTLEBORO -- An investment team expects to have all funding in place within a month for renovations at Brattleboro's fire-damaged Brooks House, a project that now carries a $22-million price tag.
Another key piece of that funding puzzle was disclosed Thursday as Gov. Peter Shumlin stood in the former hotel's dining room and announced a $750,000 state grant for the project.
While some money still is needed, a developer said the project remains on schedule for construction to begin within months.
"We're hoping to finish up the bulk of this by this time next year," said Bob Stevens, a partner in Mesabi LLC, the investment group that is finalizing the purchase of Brooks House and planning for its redevelopment.
Fire ravaged the downtown landmark in April 2011. On Thursday, Shumlin made reference to that blaze and to the floods of Tropical Storm Irene, which struck Brattleboro less than five months later.
"Flames and floods won't stop us from rebuilding Brattleboro better than the flames and floods found us," Shumlin said.
He also noted that the Brooks House project will "ensure that downtown Brattleboro remains a place where we can live, work and be together as a community."
The renovated building will include apartments and retail. It also will serve as an educational complex: Last week, the Vermont State College Board of Trustees voted to move the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College to Brooks House.
The deal reportedly will provide $250,000 in annual lease revenue, and Stevens said the schools will use a significant portion of the structure.
"I don't know how we could make this happen without the colleges," he said.
The $750,000 grant announced Thursday -- a grant that was applied for by the Town of Brattleboro on Mesabi's behalf -- is a significant part of a pool of public and private money for the project.
It is expected to cost $22 million -- up from a previous estimate of $18 million.
"The building is only worth about half of what we're putting into it," Stevens said. "This project would not work without these types of funding."
Stevens, who is a principal at the Stevens & Associates engineering firm just across Main Street, said Mesabi has commitments totaling more than $20 million and is not far from reaching its financial goal.
"We expect we'll have all that we need within a month," he said.
Among the funding requests still outstanding is a loan application through the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
Even with acquisition costs and so-called "soft" development costs factored out, Brooks House construction alone is priced at $13.5 million. It's an extensive project that will start soon and will take about a year.
The large, open room that hosted Thursday's press conference was evidence of that. Wires hung from the ceiling, and the floor was littered with bent nails, insulation and plaster.
Stevens said the space is referred to as the Brooks House "ballroom" but originally was the hotel's formal dining room.
"It's an exciting space," he said. "We don't have it rented yet."
However, there is more certainty for developers just down the hall.
"Beyond that wall, the rest of this floor is the state college," Stevens said.
Those plans represent a significant leap forward for Brooks House. Among the attendees at Thursday's event was Patricia Moulton Powden, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, who noted that officials were "standing amid the ashes" at Brooks House just 18 months ago.
Having effusively praised local officials and the project's developers, Shumlin closed his speech by lauding Brattleboro firefighters.
"We would not be standing here today if not for their extraordinary skills," he said.
The governor was in town less than a week before voters decide whether to send him to Montpelier for a second term.
The Putney native faces Republican Randy Brock, a state senator from Franklin County and a former state auditor. Also on the ballot for governor are independent Emily Peyton of Putney, Dave Eagle of the Liberty Union Party and United States Marijuana candidate Cris Ericson.
In an interview at the Reformer earlier in the day, Shumlin discussed priorities including continuing to move the state toward a centralized, single-payer health-care system -- a move Brock has opposed.
Shumlin also discussed economic development and reiterated his pledge to expand broadband access to every home in Vermont by the end of next year.
"I keep saying, ‘Thank God there's 12 months in 2013,'" Shumlin said. "But guess what: We are going to deliver on that promise of high-speed Internet access to every last mile in Vermont."
A video of the interview is available at www.youtube.com/brattlebororeformer.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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