grandstander

The grandstand at the former Green Mountain Racetrack in Pownal, which was gutted by fire in September. The Select Board hopes to work with the property owners to have the structure demolished.

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POWNAL — The Select Board hopes to work with the owners of the former Green Mountain Race Track site with the goal of having the fire-gutted grandstand building demolished.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to hold off on any health or other town order to demolish the structure while Stephen Soler, managing member with Green Mountain Race Track, LLC, attempts to have the building razed.

Even before the fire in September, Pownal officials had considered declaring the vacant and deteriorating grandstand a health and safety hazard and ordering its demolition.

Rebecca Dragon, liaison to the Select Board, said she had spoken to Soler and learned his plan is to demolish the building by the end of the year.

“The board wants to work with Green Mountain Racetrack, LLC, as long as they are showing forward movement in remediating any potentially dangerous situation,” Dragon said afterward in an email. “As stated at last night’s meeting, Mr. Soler said he anticipates the demolition to be complete by the end of the calendar year. The board is satisfied with this. They will re-assess if progress stalls.”

She added, “Demolition of the grandstand is a clear first priority for Green Mountain, LLC, so that they can begin imagining how they wish to develop the property. This is to their benefit, and to the town’s.”

Dragon said she also provided Soler with contact information of a demolition contractor who may be interested in taking the job for the value of the steel in the grandstand.

“I don’t want to speak on their behalf, but personally after speaking with Mr. Soler, I know that he is actively pursuing multiple avenues to completing demolition as soon as possible,” Dragon said at the meeting.

GRANT WRITING

Dragon said Soler asked whether she, as a grant writer for the town, could help him in applying for an asbestos removal grant, referring to a necessary step in the demolition process.

“He did ask me for help looking for grants that might address asbestos remediation,” she said in an email. “I don’t know yet what grants are available (if any), as I plan to start researching next week.”

Dragon told the board that she proposed working 10 hours outside her town work hours on seeking a grant, and that Soler would pay her directly.

The board approved that idea as long as the town is not legally involved in the process.

Dragon said her motivation is in “seeing forward motion on this,” because it would benefit the town to have the prominent – and now gutted — structure off Route 7 removed. Board member and Zoning Administrator Michael Gardner said he also had talked to Soler by phone Thursday, and he concurred that the board should hold off for a time any legal action to force a demolition.

“He seems willing to work with us,” Gardner said.

The concrete, steel and block grandstand was a green and white centerpiece of the former race track, which opened in 1963 as a thoroughbred and harness track and shifted to greyhound racing in the mid-1970s before closing for good in 1991.

The fire, which state investigators deemed suspicious, erupted on the night of Sept. 16 and burned until the next morning.

Firefighters from multiple departments in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts hosed the interior from outside after a determination was made the damaged walls and ceilings of the structure made it unsafe to enter.

Investigators noted there had been multiple reports of youths and others entering the vacant structure in recent years, sometimes for parties that included building fires on the concrete floors.

The race track site, comprising 144 acres, was sold at auction in 1992 by the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Palm Beach (Fla.) Kennel Club, and several attempts followed under the new owner, John Tietgens, of Clarksburg, Mass., to revive horse racing there but were unsuccessful.

The property is now owned by a group of investors that has attempted to hold concerts and promote other activities at the prominent site. A solar array installed on leased land where horse barns once stood went online in 2013.

The grandstand has been largely unused for many years, and in addition to damage from the elements, has sustained water and other damage from roof leaks and a flood that overflowed the banks of the nearby Hoosic River.

Town officials have said development of the property for other uses will hinge on whether the grandstand could be restored, or since the blaze, demolished.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com.

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three NENI newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield (Mass.) Republican and the former North Adams Transcript.


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