Bringing new life to an old building

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BRATTLEBORO — The development group behind the successful renovation of the fire-ravaged Brooks House has its sight set on renovating another historical building in downtown Brattleboro.

At a recent meeting of the Brattleboro Development Review Board, Bob Stevens, who co-founded M&S Development with Craig Miskovich in 2014, explained how the Sanel Building at 47 Flat St. will be converted into a mixed-use building. M&S is the development arm of Stevens & Associates and has been a development partner in a number of local projects, including Brooks House, the Brattleboro Music & Art Center expansion, GS Precision, Putnam Block and Chroma Technology.

"This is an existing historic masonry building that used to house a warehouse for Dewitt Groceries," Stevens said. "But for more than 30 years, the upper floors have been dark. We are excited that we might be able to bring this building back online."

The plan calls for a co-working space on the first floor with studios and one bedroom apartments on the second, third and fourth floors.

"We think this is a great asset to bring more people downtown," he said.

Stevens said the plan, which the DBR approved by a vote of 5-to-1, calls for a complete gutting of the building, the removal of a loading dock in the back, the addition of a stair tower, also in the back, and a "penthouse" to house mechanical systems, such as air handlers, heat pumps and elevator equipment.

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The apartments are targeted to people in the 20-to-40 age bracket, making $20,000 to $40,000 a year, and will cost between $500 and $1,000 a month, Stevens said.

He said the co-working space will include a conference room and meeting rooms. The developers are also working with local agencies to offer supportive services to young entrepreneurs.

"We'd like to bring a group of people to that space every day, which will provide some activity and liveliness on the street," Stevens said.

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Stevens said he is working with the Windham Windsor Housing Trust to put in some green space between the Sanel Building and housing trust's Snow Block. They are also hoping that with people living and working in the building, the space between the Sanel Building and the Transportation Center will see less questionable activity because people won't be hanging out there if they know they are being watched by tenants.

The building is owned by BQ Realty, which itself is owned by Peter Johnson, who also owns the Emerson Furniture building, above and behind the Sanel Building on Elliot Street.

"We are excited to repurpose this underutilized historic building on Flat Street and add new life to the neighborhood with housing and co-working space," Johnson said. "We are fortunate to have the help of the state administration to leverage several funding sources that are making this happen."

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While the building is above the 100-year floodplain, it is within the 500-year floodplain, which means the basement windows will need floodgates, Stevens said. When Tropical Storm Irene struck the region in 2011, the Whetstone Brook overflowed its banks. As a result, many buildings on Flat Street, including the Sanel Building's basement, were damaged by the floodwaters.

The plan also calls for retaining the front door on Flat Street, but installing a new main entrance on the east side.

According to the plan application, there will be no parking for the occupants and visitors of the 17,000-square-foot building, who will have to park on the street or in the parking garage.

Some of the funding for the building will come from the state's historic tax credits program, Stevens said.

"It's a fairly simple building," he said. "We are trying to respect the lines and traditions of an industrial building while keeping the modifications plain and consistent with the character of downtown."

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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