Chamber of Commerce changes tack, says it will remain open after all

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MANCHESTER >> The saga of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce took an unexpected twist Monday. After announcing its plans to close on Friday, the organization now says it will remain open.

In an emailed message sent Monday afternoon, the chamber backtracked on its initial plan to shut its doors.

"The closing of the Chamber/Visitor Welcome Center was a short term emergency measure," the email from the chamber stated.

"We have since conferred and collaborated with members of the community and advisors to keep the Chamber open and operating for our residents and guests. Our immediate focus is to work towards providing a chamber that better serves the needs of the community moving forward. We will welcome your input, participation and support."

However, multiple attempts to contact chamber officials for confirmation or elaboration have been unsuccessful.

The business organization had announced its intention to close its doors Friday, when it released an email to its members stating that "After painful deliberations, the Board of Directors of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce has made the decision to cease operations immediately."

The email announcing the chamber's closing went on to state how a decline in memberships, exacerbated by a loss of health insurance revenue with the arrival of Vermont Health Connect, the state health insurance exchange, had created stern financial pressures on the organization.

In response, the organization had hoped to reinvent itself as an new entity to be known as "The Partnership," which it hoped would come into effect on July 1, 2016. They hoped to raise $75,000 in public revenue during Town Meeting voting. However, a vote which called for $25,000 from Manchester — the lion's share of the public revenue which was to be used to leverage private sector donations and provide funds for the new organizations efforts at destination marketing and economic development — failed in Manchester by a slender 5-vote margin, 626-631.

A re-vote effort was subsequently launched and petitions circulated. Last week, however, chamber officials opted to change course.

"We explored and began the process of a "reconsideration" vote by the Town of Manchester," the chamber's announcement last Friday stated. "But, we have determined that it is too late. Money from the towns could have been used only for the purposes promised, not to finance administration the Chamber. That was to come from the renewed vitality to follow successful town meeting votes. We cannot overcome this loss of momentum and confidence of buy-in by all.

"The responsible business decision is to cease operation and not to go through with reconsideration for funds we could not in good conscience use for the immediate operational needs of the Chamber. By making the decision now, it allows the Chamber to take care of current financial obligations and releases our loyal partners from further monetary obligation to us."

The Manchester Select Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and on its agenda is a discussion of the chamber's situation.


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