Brooks House owner to sell historic building to local investors
BRATTLEBORO -- Redevelopment of the Brooks House has been put on a fast track after the building's owner announced Tuesday that he would be selling the property to a local investment group.
Bob Stevens, of Stevens & Associates, and Craig Miskovich, an attorney with Downs Rachlin Martin, will lead Mesabi LLC, the newly formed corporation, to find local investors to take over the historic downtown property.
Jonathan Chase, who owns the Brooks House, said that after trying to redevelop the fire-damaged property on his own over the past year it became apparent that he would not be able to raise the needed capital.
Chase may or may not end up being involved with the project as it moves forward.
A severe fire damaged the Brooks House on April 17, 2011 and Brattleboro has been struggling to recover ever since.
Town Manager Barbara Sondag said Tuesday's announcement marked an important turning point in the building's rebirth.
"The Brooks House is vitally important to downtown, and to the history of downtown," Sondag said. "I want to thank Jonathan for putting a lot of work and a lot of money into stabilizing the building, and thank Bob and Craig for stepping up to take a leadership role in this."
Chase has invested almost $2 million to date, stabilizing the building and planning for reconstruction.
Since the night of the fire, Chase, who spoke by conference call at a morning press briefing, said he has been working to get the Main Street building ready for the next phase of development.
But with the one year anniversary of the fire approaching, Chase said he decided to seek out outside investments to get the rebuilding process going.
"The Brooks House, and Brattleboro suffered a terrible blow on April 17, 2011," he said. "At some point, recently, it became apparent that I could not come up with the costs to rebuild as I had envisioned it ought to be rebuilt. The Brooks House fire has created an opportunity for the community. I will support the work to continue to get the Brooks House on line as soon as possible, and make it better than ever."
In the fall, Stevens & Associates released a new plan for the Brooks House which included market and above market rate apartments, an outside plaza in the rear of the building and expanded retail space.
Stevens on Tuesday said the plans might have to be altered to keep the price of construction down.
Stevens and Miskovich, who are assuming roles in the new corporation as Brattleboro residents and not with the companies they work for, hope to raise about $14 million, and expect to begin construction in six to eight months.
Construction could take between 18 and 24 months, according to Stevens.
Stevens and Miskovich both said they would be investing in the project, and working to secure tax credits and grants and find outside investors.
Other projects around Brattleboro have been completed with outside help, and Stevens said he expects there to be a lot of enthusiasm for rebuilding the Brooks House.
"There is precedent in Brattleboro for projects like this," said Stevens. "But we are going to need a lot of help to pull this off."
The state has been looking for a site for a new downtown college campus for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College
Martha O'Connor, who is leading the local site search committee and was at Tuesday morning's announcement, said that the Brooks House would be a perfect match.
The state currently uses 14,000 square feet at two Brattleboro locations, and is looking to expand to about 28,000 square feet.
O'Connor said that she and the rest of the group involved with the downtown college campus project will be keeping a close watch on how the proposed Brooks House sale advances.
"We are looking for a space downtown, and this space meets a lot of the requirements the state college has," O'Connor said. "I am one person, and this will have to go to the whole board, but the Governor is enthusiastic and supports something like this."
Robert Woodworth, owner of Burrows Specialized Sports, and Treasurer of Building a Better Brattleboro, said the closing of the Brooks House after the fire affected other businesses, and he was looking forward to having that corner of downtown back.
"The town has been operating on three cylinders since last year," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jerry Goldberg. "I am so relieved that we will be able to stop talking about what was, and start talking about what will be."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.
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