Brooks House project delayed

Monday January 14, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Plans to begin work on the long shuttered Brooks House building in downtown Brattleboro have been delayed because the group of investors spearheading the project is still trying to get the financing together.

Mesabi LLC, a group of five local investors, wanted to close on the building at the end of 2012 and begin work early this year.

Late Friday the group sent out a press release saying that work will not begin until later in the first quarter, largely because they are still looking for a bank to secure the senior debt.

The Brooks House was damaged in five-alarm fire on April 17, 2011 and has been vacant ever since.

Since announcing in April 2012 that they wanted to purchase the property from Jonathan Chase and redevelop it, the investors have been able to secure a series of grants, tax credits, private investors and loans, but it has been challenging to find one bank to take on the entire complicated transaction, which is estimated at between $18 million and $22 million.

"With a project this complex it's normal to have some hiccups," Bob Stevens said in the press release.

Stevens along with Craig Miskovich, Ben Taggard, Drew Richards and Peter Richards are the developers behind Mesabi LLC.

Allyson Wendt, marketing director for Stevens & Associates, said the group wanted to get its financing in place before the end of last year to take advantage of the tax credits in 2012.

The original plans were to close on the deal in November 2012 and begin construction early in 2013, with the first tenants moving in early in 2014.

She said the group received extensions on the historic tax credits which are crucial to the overall financing and she also said Chase has extended the group's option to purchase the historic property, giving them more time to pull the financing together.

"We are close, and we are still confident that we will be able to make this happen," Wendt said. "It is just going to take a couple of months longer than we anticipated. It's not unusual for a project that is this complex to be delayed."

Mesabi LLC received plenty of positive news since announcing in the spring that it was moving ahead to try to purchase the property from Chase.

The biggest shot in the arm came when the Vermont State College system announced that it would move its new downtown campus for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College to the Brooks House.

Wendt says the college system is being kept up to date on the delay and she said college administrators are still behind the project.

The group has been preleasing the apartments and Wendt said negotiations with potential restaurant owners and retail merchants are going well. She said they have tentative agreements for about 60 percent of the space.

And in November the state announced it would provide a $750,000 community development block grant.

Mesabi sent out a press release late last year saying that about 80 percent of the financing is in place.

Still, Wendt said that finding a senior lender was the "Biggest piece of the lending pie," and she said the group is still working aggressively to move the project forward.

"All the other funding sources are in place," Miskovich said. "We're working with several banks right now to find a lending arrangement that works."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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