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Stroll begins process of taking over River Garden mortgage

BRATTLEBORO—Strolling of the Heifers has applied to take over the USDA Rural Development mortgage on the Robert H. Gibson River Garden.

A sparsely attended public hearing last Friday afternoon at the River Garden marked the first step in transferring ownership of the Main Street property from Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB) to Strolling of the Heifers.

BaBB announced earlier this year that it wanted to sell the River Garden, and Strolling of the Heifers was selected from a group of three that made bids on the property.

For now, BaBB still owns and maintains the building. In 2008, the downtown business group received a $40,000 grant and a $140,000 loan from USDA Rural Development, which has to approve the mortgage transfer before Strolling of the Heifers can take over the property.

Jon-Michael Muise, area director for USDA Rural Development, said at Friday’s hearing that the agency is evaluating the application right now, and that there are “no major issues” with the application.

Muise said the educational activities that Strolling of the Heifers does year-round “is a big reason why we’re excited to be part of this.”

Strolling of the Heifers executive director Orly Munzing says her organization has lots of dreams for the River Garden.

Topping the list is installing a commercial kitchen and putting in air conditioning.

Munzing said the kitchen will be a center not just for caterers using the River Garden for public events, but also for cooking demonstrations and classes to promote healthy eating and eating local food.

“I see a lot of inter-generational activities going on here,” she said. “Lots of great people have come forward with ideas.”

One idea that her organization has been pursuing is working with the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to make the River Garden a work training center for people with disabilities.

Ultimately, Munzing sees the River Garden as a combination agricultural, food, and farming center promoting Brattleboro and Southern Vermont.

As for BaBB, Munzing said that although it will relinquish control of the River Garden, she sees a continued relationship with BaBB and more opportunities to use the space for public events.

“We’re in the events business, and we have the infrastructure to put on events that BaBB doesn’t have,” she said.

Munzing said she hopes Strolling of the Heifers will complete the deal and purchase the River Garden by the end of this year.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #219 (Wednesday, September 4, 2013).

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