Rivergarden's future is still in limbo
BRATTLEBORO -- Regardless of what happens when the Brattleboro Selectboard considers the amended budget for Building a Better Brattleboro Wednesday, the future of the Rivergarden will remain in question.
Building a Better Brattleboro, the business organization that is funded with assessments on properties within the downtown district, announced that it wants to sell the Rivergarden, and the money needed to keep the doors of the Rivergarden open has not been included in the proposed 2014 BABB budget.
The 2013 budget runs until June 30.
And while BABB has made it clear that the organization wants to sell the downtown property there are still a lot of questions to answer about how the ownership of the Rivergarden might ultimately be transferred.
"We're still trying to untangle it all," said BABB Executive Director Andrea Livermore. "We know the public is clamoring to be more involved but we need to get all our facts straight before we get the public involved. It is very much still in limbo."
BABB originally wanted to hold a meeting in January to begin discussing the future of the Rivergarden, but when the group's proposed budget was rejected by the Selectboard Livermore says the board had to turn its attention to putting together a new budget.
Now, Livermore said, BABB will have to start the process of figuring out what it wants to do with the Rivergarden.
She said a public meeting likely will be held in February to begin the public process over the fate of the building.
When BABB purchased the Main Street building in 1999 the state contributed $150,000 and questions remain about whether that money has to be paid back.
Sen. Jeanette White, working with legislative counsel, said the money will not have to be returned if the property changes hands, but Livermore said an attorney working for BABB is trying to get more clarity on the issue.
Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray also said that the town was keeping a close watch on developments surrounding the Rivergarden.
When the state provided the $150,000 for the purchase the money passed through the town, and even though the town was never involved in the purchase, it does currently have a $150,000 lien on the building.
Until the Legislature delivers a letter relieving the town of its responsibility, DeGray says the town is going to assume that it will have a role to play in deciding the fate of the Rivergarden.
"Until we get something from the Legislature saying that the loan is forgiven, we have a lien and we will enforce the lien," DeGray said. "The last thing we want is the Legislature coming back in a few years saying we have to repay the $150,000. We don't want the taxpayers on the hook for that money."
DeGray does back the decision by BABB to sell the property.
BABB loses money every year keeping the doors of the Rivergarden open and DeGray said it is not fair to collect money from the downtown property owners and use it to fund the Rivergarden.
"The property is causing a huge financial strain on the organization; it has prevented them from doing the work they are supposed to be doing," said DeGray. "It is a strain financially and mentally. It has taken away from their overall performance."
Brattleboro resident Robert Oeser is also keeping a close watch on how the issue is developing and has been going through records in Town Hall relating to the purchase in 1999.
Oeser says he is not yet involved in a community group that wants to weigh in on the pending sale, but according to his interpretation of the documents, BABB does not appear have the authority to sell the building to a for-profit entity.
The mortgage clearly states that BABB would have to repay the town the $150,000 if it sold the building, he said, and the town also has limits on what it can do with the property.
It is unclear, Oeser conceded, how those stipulations would be affected by a decision of the Legislature to forgive the grant payment.
Oeser says he is looking forward to the public meetings and says there should be more enthusiasm by Brattleboro residents to figure out what to do with the Rivergarden as the questions are cleared up.
"In the short term, I want to make sure that all of the facts are on table," he said. "As this gets more public I think you are going to be seeing more ideas. I don't know if they will be viable, but I hope we are able to at least get the facts straight."