Brooks House plan advances
BRATTLEBORO -- The local investment team that came together last year to purchase and redevelop The Brooks House knew it was not going to be easy to put together the deal to get Brattleboro's historic downtown landmark open again.
Physically, the 1871 Main Street property needed to be completely restored after an April 2011 fire severely damaged the structure.
There were new tenants to find for the apartments, old merchants to convince to come back or new ones to talk into committing to renting a storefront in the new space, and a high profile campaign to bring Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College into the project.
And then there was the little matter of coming up with the $22 million needed to pull the whole thing together.
Mesabi, LLC, the development team made of five local investors, hoped to start work in January but problems with the financing and with filling the empty storefronts, offices and apartments delayed the work.
Now the project is back on track and the developers say they are close to finalizing the deal that will allow them to start the work needed to reopen The Brooks House.
"It's not a matter of ‘if,' it is a matter of ‘when,'" said Mesabi, LLC, partner Bob Stevens. "There has been a lot of interest in this project and it is coming together now."
Mascoma Bank, which has its operations center in White River Junction, has agreed to be the lead lender in the complex deal which includes private and public investments, pre-lease agreements, tax credits, grants and loans.
The January start date was postponed because developers could not find a bank which was comfortable with the complicated arrangement and would act as the lead lender.
With Mascoma now on board, and commitments for about 60 percent of the space, Stevens said construction crews could be in the building as early as May to begin work.
"It's full speed ahead now," Stevens said. "We have taken the next step and are spending more money and sending out letters and getting lawyers involved. We're all in."
Even though Stevens says the project is moving forward there are still parts to get in place before work begins.
Before Mascoma agrees to sign on the bank wants to make sure enough of the space is going to be rented in the new Brooks Hose once it is open.
Stevens said Mesabi, LLC, has been preleasing the stores, apartments and offices and they only need tenant agreements for about three or four apartments and one more commercial space.
On Thursday, March 14 from 5 to 7 p.m., developers will host an open house and leasing party at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden to promote the project and try to get more people interested in coming on board.
Former Brattleboro resident Stephanie Bonin, who practically grew up in the Brooks House when her parents owned and operated the Book Cellar there for 20 years, is going to be moving in with her husband and partner, Keith Arnold.
The couple owns and operates a restaurant, Duo, in Denver, and they have decided to move back to the area.
Financing for the project includes using New Market Tax Credits, which Stevens said some local banks were uncomfortable with using.
The New Market Tax Credits put restrictions on how and when banks are able to take over a property in the event of a foreclosure.
After trying to work with local banks, developers sent out proposals to 16 banks, some as far as Boston, and ultimately received three positive responses.
Brattleboro Savings and Loan has been an important part of the financing, and will remain a key player, Stevens said, but Mesabi needed a lead lender, and with the announcement this week that Mascoma will take that role, Stevens says a start date has once again come into focus.
A closing has been penciled in for late April and Stevens said work could start in May.
"It's been a long slog, but we would not have gotten this far without all of the support we have received from the town and from the people here," Stevens said. "This has to happen. We have no choice. I am confident we will get there."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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