BRATTLEBORO—The team overseeing the project to restore the Brooks House is looking to win a $750,000 grant through the federal slums and blight (S/B) program, said Tom Appel, project team member.
“This is more than just re-doing a building,” said Tom Appel, project team member. “There’s not a person involved [with the project] who doesn’t feel this is a responsibility to the community.”
Although construction workers stabilized the building after the April 2011 fire, the building requires about $16 million to $18 million before it can open for habitation, said Appel.
If awarded, the federal money would represent one of 11 funding pieces for the multi-million dollar project. The funding sources range from private investment, to loans, to tax credits, to grants, said Appel.
The Brooks House project team held a hearing on Monday to take public input on its Community Development Block Grant application. No one from the public attended the hearing.
“[Funding is] a real dance to bring them all to the table at one point,” said Appel.
To qualify for the slums and blight program, the project team must show that the Brooks House poses a health and safety threat.
According to Appel, the Brooks House qualifies because, as a prominent downtown building, it has stood vacant and is gutted to the 2x4s.
The fire displaced about 60 tenants and 10 businesses.
He anticipates the grant would fund code and safety items like a sprinkler system and emergency alarms.
In huge buildings like the Brooks House, little items add up, said Appel.
Take a construction item at $18 a square foot, and multiply that by 80,000 square feet.
“Wow!” said Appel.
The S/B program covers multiple activity categories, he said, including housing, economic development, and public service. The grant requires a 25 percent funding match.
“Twenty-five percent is easily done when you’re putting together millions,” said Appel.
The project underwent a pre-qualification process for the slums and blight program, said Appel. The team started collecting grant materials last summer, including a historic preservation report, business plan, budget, and marketing plan.
The marketing plan helps “crystal ball” the town’s current and future rental market potential, said Appel. This determines “to what level you target your rents,” he said.
“It’s a whole series of feedback loops of information” that eventually feeds into the project’s budget and design, Appel said.
The project’s budget also includes a line item for purchasing the Brooks House from its current owner, Jonathan Chase.
The investment partners behind the Brooks House rebuild, called Mesabi LLC, include Bob Stevens of Stevens & Associates; Craig Miskovich of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC; and Ben Taggard, Drew Richards, and Peter Richards, who are all vice-presidents and principals at The Richards Group.
Pursuing the funds
The federal government sends community block grant funds to the states. The states use a competitive application process and determine how the funds are distributed to communities through municipalities.
According to Appel, Vermont has two CBDG regions: “Burlington and everybody else,” he said. The program is administered by the state Agency of Commerce & Community Development.
An individual town receives only one block grant per award round, said Appel. The number of rounds can change from year to year. Lately, the state has about four or five rounds annually.
Employees of the Community Development Program review applications, making recommendations to a review board for further review. From there, the applications then go to the governor, who makes the final determination.
Middlebury construction firm named
The Brooks House project team announced last week that it had selected Bread Loaf Construction of Middlebury to serve as the restoration project’s construction manager and contractor.
According to a press release, Bread Loaf Construction will work with the investors and design team, led by architecture and engineering firm Stevens & Associates, to develop estimates, secure bids from subcontractors, and finalize a construction schedule.
Stevens & Associates is majority owned by Bob Stevens, one of the project’s investors.
The design team is finalizing floor plans, according to the press release.
Preliminary plans call for the building’s original Main Street entrance — located in the former Adagio restaurant — to open on a two-story atrium and staircase. The area will house a coffee bar and allow inside access to all retail spaces.
According to the press release, two stories would be added to the Harmony Parking lot side, at the rear of the building. This addition will allow for more office space and contain a stair tower.
“Vehicular traffic through the tunnel will be maintained, but a planted courtyard will offer outdoor seating and more attractive pedestrian access to the Brooks House and neighboring buildings,” said the press release.