Public offered a look at proposed plan for Putnam Block

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BENNINGTON — With the sale of six downtown buildings moving toward a closing, principals in a proposed $50 million-plus redevelopment project have scheduled an open house for the public and potential business investors.

The presentation event is set for May 4 at Oldcastle Theatre, which is located in one of the structures eyed for renovation work.

"We want to update the public on the project," said Bill Colvin, assistant director and community development program coordinator with the Bennington County Regional Commission.

That includes distribution of a new brochure on the proposed transformation of structures around Bennington's central Four Corners intersection.

"I am pretty confident," Colvin said Friday of the sale of the six buildings on 4 downtown acres. "I expect this will happen within a month."

The ambitious project envisions downtown housing units, office and retail space, restaurants and entertainment venues.

The property, now owned by the Greenberg family, will be acquired by the Bennington Redevelopment Group, LLC, a consortium of civic-minded investors that includes The Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, Global-Z International, Brian McKenna, Anthony and Jacqueline Marro and a group of local professionals.

The group also is expected to work with M&S Development of Brattleboro, which would help to develop financing and manage the project.

Although the negotiated sale price for the six buildings and parking areas has not been confirmed, it reportedly totals $2 million.

An option to purchase the structures has been extended twice as an environmental assessment was conducted and that report reviewed. Colvin said Friday that potential environmental cleanup requirements have been identified and there appear to be no impediments that could derail the project.

In addition, a settlement was worked out in a lawsuit filed over easement issues related to a stair tower and elevator between the former Pennysaver or old Courthouse building — part of the proposed sale — and the adjacent Drysdale building, which isn't included in the proposal and has a different owner.

That proposed settlement involving multiple building tenant parties was agreed upon in mid-January, Colvin said, and approval by the court is anticipated soon.

The sale is not dependent upon the receipt of grants being sought to assist the project, Colvin said. Those include a total of $1.25 million the town is seeking, to be used to partially fund environmental site work — such as asbestos removal and demolition work — and to rehabilitate historic buildings.

He said the complex sale plan calls for the non-profit Bennington County Industrial Corp. to enter into a management agreement with the investment group to oversee aspects of the project, and for the BCIC to be the entity that will initially receive the property when it is transferred. The private development group would, however, cover all costs of the acquisition and later assume direct ownership as the project moves toward the construction phase.

The BCIC's non-profit status could allow it to apply for certain grant program funding not available to a private developer.

Colvin said Phase 1 of the project will include redevelopment of three historic structures: The former Putnam Hotel, the Pennysaver/Courthouse building, and the Winslow Block. At some point, the BCIC will subdivide the property and transfer to the development group the buildings ready for redevelopment in Phase 1.

Work on the first phase is expected to begin in October, he said, with the redeveloped structures ready for occupancy by January 2019.

Further refining of the proposals for the remaining structures and parking lot areas will continue for the Phase 2 work, Colvin said, and BCIC or other entities will pursue additional sources of grant funding, such as for environmental cleanup work. Eventually, the property will be transferred to the development group before the Phase 2 construction is put out to bid.

That phase is expected to include the former Greenberg & Son hardware store, lumberyard and parking areas and an adjacent gasoline service station, along with the Oldcaste Theatre building.

Colvin said the estimated cost of the Phase 1 work is $24 million, and a current estimate for Phase 2 work is $28 million, although that could climb by up to another $15 million, depending on the redevelopment options ultimately chosen.

In total, about 200,000 square feet of building space could be involved in the redevelopment.

For the project, the developers are considering using both public and private funds, including grants, tax credits, charitable donations and loans.

Bennington officials also are considering formation of a tax increment financing district around the site, if the town and several other communities in the state can persuade the Legislature to lift a cap on formation of new TIF districts.

A TIF district would allow the town to bond for infrastructure improvements to benefit the site and attract new private development. Under the program, additional tax revenue generated by the new development that normally would go into state coffers could instead be used to pay off the municipal debt.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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