WILMINGTON -- A local non-profit group helping to rebuild the town’s economy took a major step Thursday, when it purchased a flood-damaged building in the heart of downtown.
The Wilmington Fund, working with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, purchased the Parmalee and Howe building on the corner of Route 9 and 100, from Stern Holding Company Inc., for $200,000.
Board Chairman Dan Kilmurray said the idea is to renovate and lease business space within the historic multi-unit building and then sell it.
"Long-term we’re not interested in being landlords," he said. "We’d like to have our assets liquid to continue to help other business owners."
Kilmurray said the board is now accepting business plans from people who want to rent a space in the building or anywhere downtown. Local contractor Scott Reed, of Whitingham, was hired by the board to start basic renovations and flood mitigation of the building on Monday.
In August, Wilmington suffered more than $13 million dollars of damage as Tropical Storm Irene flooded the area destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.
Four local business entrepreneurs have already contacted the board and members have said they’re hopeful to have tenants in the building by July.
"It’s a pivotal building in our community," said Board Secretary Julie Lineberger. "It’s an icon in the center of our town."
The 1930 brick building with its arched windows was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It first housed a drug store with a soda fountain and a hardware store with an upscale clothing boutique and a coffee shop occupying the space most recently.
Kilmurray added that the village’s economy won’t work without tenants in that building.
"It’s incredibly visible. Anyone that comes into the town gets a bird’s eye view of the building," he said. "It needs to be occupied."
While some businesses in the downtown area have reopened recently like the Maple Leaf Brewery, Jezebel’s Eatery and the Anchor, many others don’t have the financial resources to rebuild and repair their damaged buildings, which is why groups like Wilmington Fund are so important, Lineberger said.
"There’s seven and a half buildings dark and we want to get that number down to zero," she said.
By providing locations for new and or existing businesses to grow it’ll bring jobs to the village and long-term economic security to the area, Kilmurray said.
"We have a really unique opportunity to take a horrible event and turn it into something positive," he said. "We can take a fund like ours, raise tax-deductible dollars and use them to launch new businesses."
Town Manager Scott Murphy said the reemergence of several downtown businesses is a "positive indicator" that Wilmington will emerge from the flood damage.
"It’s really encouraging to see more and more stores and businesses reopen," he said. "We’ll get back to where we were."
Gov. Peter Shumlin is scheduled to visit the downtown area on Monday and there’s speculation that a major announcement will be made about a local well-known business reopening, Murphy said.
For more information on the Wilmington Fund, visit www.thewilmingtonfundvt.org.