BENNINGTON, VT–A consortium of local business leaders, institutions and civic-minded investors are organizing to transform the block of historic buildings at the Four Corners of Bennington into a vibrant, mixed use downtown space with offices, in-town living, restaurants and retail. Bennington Redevelopment Group LLC (BRG LLC) has reached an agreement to acquire the buildings and approximately four acres of land that include the Putnam Hotel, the Old Courthouse/Pennysaver, the Winslow Building, Oldcastle Theatre, H. Greenberg and Son Hardware and the Mobil Station.
The group has a 90-day window to do environmental assessments, survey and title work before purchasing the property. The group expects it will take twelve to eighteen months to design and develop the project. Success will require support from the Town of Bennington, the State of Vermont and tenants who are willing to be a part of the transformation of downtown Bennington.
The project is being led by a group of community leaders from a range of institutions and interests, including The Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), Bennington College, Southern Vermont College (SVC), Global-Z International, Brian McKenna, Anthony and Jacqueline Marro and a group of local professionals. BRG LLC has partnered with M&S Development of Brattleboro, VT to help develop financing and manage the project.
Discussing what led the to the formation of what has become the Bennington Redevelopment Group LLC, Bank of Bennington President Jim Brown said, “We first started meeting a year ago because we had a shared understanding that Bennington was in decline and something needed to be done to reverse that. We also believed that it would take private investors with a civic mindset in order for this to be successful. It didn’t take long for us to see the redevelopment of the Putnam block as the transformative project that downtown and Bennington needed to change the story and create positive momentum.”
The partners in M&S Development, Bob Stevens and Craig Miskovich, were part of the team that successfully redeveloped the Brooks House in Brattleboro, which became an inspiration for downtown revitalization as well as a model for community-enabled development. This type of development combines community investment with a mix of federal tax credits and state support for financial incentives. Stevens stated, “Downtown redevelopment in many Vermont towns is not economically viable under conventional scenarios. It takes civic-minded and community investors, anchor tenants and partnerships with the public sector to be successful.”
Thomas Dee, president and CEO of SVHC, is part of the working group. “The time is now for some of the key organizations in the Town of Bennington to work in collaboration for the welfare of our community and for the future development of the downtown region,” Dee said. “As SVMC continues to grow and develop needed community services, it is vital for our future success to have a vibrant and expanded economic base in the Town of Bennington. This project offers a great opportunity to move in that direction.”
SVC President David Evans said that he and President Mariko Silver of Bennington College have also been closely involved in the redevelopment plan. “We both know that an attractive, vital community is key to the success of our institutions and to attracting and retaining students, staff and faculty,” Evans said. “Our colleges are committed to creating a strong Town of Bennington, and we are proud to work together to help support this critical project.”
The project team intends to work with Oldcastle Theatre Company to secure and bolster that organization’s presence as an anchor of the arts and culture community in downtown Bennington. Eric Peterson, Producing Artistic Director for Oldcastle noted, “Oldcastle Theatre Company is extremely excited to be part of this major development project. It will bring new business and new energy and is exactly what is needed for Bennington to achieve its potential. A revitalized downtown will enable the theatre to continue growing; attracting audiences from New York State, the Berkshires, residents and tourists. This is the ‘home run’ change that Bennington needed.”
Elements of the project were drawn from the recently released Bennington Downtown Area-Wide Plan, prepared by Stone Environmental and BCRC for the Town of Bennington. That plan produced a market study, conceptual redevelopment scenarios and feasibility analyses which will support the proposed Putnam Block redevelopment effort.
The funding for the Putnam Block revitalization is slated to come from a combination of debt, grants and equity. Debt financing will be sought from private sources, banks, and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). Grants will be pursued from the Vermont Community Development Program and State of Vermont and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields programs. The project will also solicit New Market Tax Credits and Federal Historic Tax Credits.
For more information about the Putnam Block Redevelopment, contact William Colvin at [email protected]; 802-442-0713 x.1
Putnam Block Redevelopment
The Putnam Hotel and the surrounding block represent the most prominent location in downtown Bennington. The architecturally significant properties have fallen into disrepair and have been underutilized for years. Like many small historic downtowns the redevelopment of these properties is not economically viable by conventional methods. Their blighted condition perpetuates a state of decline in the downtown.
There is a model of community enabled development combined with a mix of federal tax credits and state support that has been successful in revitalizing other Vermont downtowns.
The Brooks House in Brattleboro is very similar and was successfully redeveloped after a devastating fire. The cities of St. Albans and Barre, Vermont have successfully used tax credits and state assistance to revitalize their cities.
The vision for the redevelopment of the Putnam Hotel and the surrounding block will include in-town living, attractive retail and office space. It intends to provide important amenities like a neighborhood grocery, restaurants and parking. The redevelopment of the Putnam Hotel and the surrounding block will create a vibrant, mixed use, downtown neighborhood. The property is a gateway into downtown Bennington and is large enough to reach a critical mass of economic infusion into the downtown. Revitalization of these prominent, historic buildings will be catalytic for and help improve the economics for additional investment in the downtown.
This redevelopment is being initiated by leaders in the community. It includes the following:
- • The Bank of Bennington
- • Southwestern Vermont Health Care
- • BenningtonCollege
- • Southern Vermont College
- • Global-ZInternational
- • BrianMcKenna
- • Anthony and Jacqueline Marro
- • A group of local professionals
These civic leaders are joined by M&S Development of Brattleboro, Vermont, a development company that focuses on redevelopment in economically distressed downtowns. These investors will lead the effort with raising the sources of funds, securing tenants and renovating the property.
The funding is a complex, blended combination of debt, grants and equity. Debt will be from private sources, banks, Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) and Town Program Income. Grants from the Community Development Block Grant and the VT Downtown Program will be sought. This project qualifies for New Market Tax Credits and Federal Historic Tax Credits.
Community Enabled Development
Community participation is essential to the revitalization of this downtown block. The investors will need to be civically motivated as the risk and return will not be commensurate for a typical development project solely measured by return on investment. It also may take many years before the project is able to pay back the investment and real estate development is very risky. However, this project will not happen unless the community steps up to make it happen. The community will need to have faith that this redevelopment will be transformative and be the catalyst for adding life and vitality to Downtown Bennington. Community participation is vital in the following areas:
- • Leadership Equity investors will be the ultimate owners of the project.
- • Requires a commitment to invest before ownership, in the pre-development phase when funds are spenton permi ing, design, marketing, funding applications and grant applications.
- • Subject to pre-development risk.
- • Requires loan obligations in the form of either pledged collateral or guarantees.
- • Is a member of the management group.
- • Provides an equity contribution for guaranteed 3% rate of return.
- • Principal is paid back in ten years or is converted to Leadership Equity.
- • Investment occurs at project closing.
- • No pre-development risk.
- • Investment can be a dedicated IRA contribution.
Private Loan or Guarantee
- • Loans at a rate similar to preferred equity but with a variable term or balloon.
- • Subordinate to other debtCharitable Contribution
- • Some of the project leaders are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that may invest in capital improvements for the project buildings, including t-up expenses for student and faculty housing.
- • Contributions from individuals to the 501(c)(3) charitable organizations for these purposes may qualify as charitable contributions.
- • Commi ed Tenant
- • Pre-lease commercial commitments from anchor tenants will be essential for securing project nancing.
- • Pre-lease residential commitments will be essential but will not require underwriting or long termcommitments.
Negotiations for site control are in process, and an option agreement to purchase the property has been secured. The next steps in the predevelopment of the project are to begin surveying and base data collection, and hazardous materials inspections. Simultaneously, we will be submitting grant applications, working with other funding sources and doing design and permi ing. Once the nancing and design components are completed the project closing process will be initiated.