BRATTLEBORO—It’s been nearly two years since an April 2011 fire left the Brooks House gutted and forced 10 businesses and 60 tenants to flee.
Today, the Main Street landmark stands ready for its second life, provided that the local development team that took on the daunting task of restoring the Brooks House to its former glory can find needed funding.
Mesabi LLC planned to start work on the $23 million project in January, but delays in finding financing, and a sluggish rental market, had slowed things down.
However, Bob Stevens, principal of Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro and one of the five local investors that make up Mesabi, said things are now “moving full steam ahead.”
The other members of the Mesabi team are Craig Miskovich, Drew Richards, Ben Taggard, and Pete Richards.
The rebuilt Brooks House will feature 75,000 square feet of residential, office, retail, and restaurant spaces. The Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College also have agreed to locate a shared campus in the building.
Project financing will consist of tax credits, public and private loans, and a federal Community Development Block Grant that was awarded in the fall of 2012.
Mascoma Savings Bank, a mutually owned bank based in White River Junction, announced last week that it will be the lead funder of the project, with Brattleboro Savings & Loan taking a secondary role.
Stevens said that the senior debt for the project was approved for $7.1 million, with another $5 million in “bridge funding” for one year.
The senior debt, he said, was the funding from Mascoma, while the bridge funding will be repaid from federal Historic Preservation tax credits following construction.
Moreover, the Vermont Economic Development Authority will loan the project nearly $1.5 million.
According to Stevens, the variety of federal tax credit programs underpinning the Brooks House project scared off a lot of potential investors.
Mesabi approached 16 different banks for funding. Only three banks were interested, Mascoma included.
“Mascoma has done a number of projects like ours, so they know what they’re getting into,” said Stevens.
Stevens said Monday that more than 60 percent of the rental space — mostly apartments — had been leased, but the banks will not release the funding until signed leases represent 70 percent occupancy.
But Stevens said Mesabi is now close enough with its funding and lease commitments that construction crews likely would begin work by May.
“The legal and accounting work for the tax credit structure is underway,” Stevens said. “All of the different lenders are completing their underwriting. Our designs are expected to be finished in the next week or so and then will be put out to bid. We are planning on an eight-week time frame to complete all the paperwork, get bids, get permits, and close on the project.”
Stevens said that so far, only one retail space and one restaurant space have been leased. But that one restaurant space has a great story behind it.
Brattleboro native Stephanie Bonin, whose parents owned The Book Cellar for about 20 years, said last week that she and her husband, Keith Arnold, are relocating from Denver and opening a restaurant in the Brooks House.
Bonin and Arnold, who run a restaurant in Denver called Duo (www.duodenver.com), will come to Brattleboro to open a similar eatery. They plan to occupy the prime spot at the corner of Main and High streets, the space that had housed Dragonfly Dry Goods.
Stevens said that Bonin told him that she and her husband wanted to raise their two children in a small town, and that they liked Brattleboro’s vibe.
“They’ve been very successful in Denver, and they will be one of our retail anchor tenants in our premium spot,” said Stevens.
Stevens said that he hopes that the open house that Mesabi will host at the River Garden on Thursday, March 14, from 5-7 p.m., will generate more interest from potential tenants. But he said he’s happy with how things have gone to this point.
“We’re awfully close,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve received so much support from so many people at the local, state, and federal levels.”