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Freed from River Garden, BaBB redefines its vision

Designated downtown group presents work plan and budget for fiscal year 2015

BRATTLEBORO—Building a Better Brattleboro’s 2015 fiscal year work plan looks much the same as its current work plan, says Donna Simons, president of its board of directors.

The organization started good projects this year, she said, promising similar projects would carry into next year.

According to outgoing board Vice President Kate O’Connor, the membership approved the work plan and budget by written ballot. Twenty of BaBB’s 80 members voted.

Despite a similar work plan, the next few months will bring changes for the organization: BaBB soon will relinquish its ownership of the Robert H. Gibson River Garden to fellow nonprofit Strolling of the Heifers, and BaBB also is selecting a coordinator at 18 hours per week — a reduction from the previous 32 hours per week that supported an executive director.

“I know many of you feel it’s not enough, but it’s what we can afford,” said Simons of the position.

Progress and vision touted

BaBB presented its fiscal year 2015 work plan and budget in an open meeting in the River Garden on Nov. 6.

Simons told the modest audience that BaBB has climbed out of its financial issues over the past few months. When the River Garden is sold, the organization should be “sailing” financially, she said.

The River Garden has operated for many years at a deficit, causing BaBB to tap its financial reserves.

According to Simons, Strolling of the Heifers has agreed to pay the building’s mortgage and provide BaBB with $20,000, equal to the credit line BaBB used to make up financial shortfalls attached to the building.

Should Strolling of the Heifers sell the building within 10 years, it has also agreed to split any profits with BaBB, said Simons.

She did caution that Strolling of the Heifers will spend a lot on improvements — including air conditioning and a kitchen — so it may not recoup a lot of profit should it sell.

Strolling will also keep the building’s name and keep the building as part of the area’s scenic byway, said Simons.

Finally, Strolling will also split fundraising money with BaBB from events at the River Garden if BaBB helps with the event, she said.

BaBB will move its office from the River Garden. The new location is expected to be above Burrows Specialized Sports on 105 Main St.

The organization will move by Jan. 1, 2014, said Simons, though Strolling of the Heifers would be happier if BaBB moved sooner.

Looking at less money

BaBB’s budget for the next fiscal year is $85,000, down considerably from the current fiscal year. The monies that will come from a tax assessment on the Downtown Improvement District (DID) remained level-funded for the third year at $78,000.

Although it isn’t a town program, BaBB does need the DID tax portion of its budget, $78,000, approved by the Town Meeting Members at Representative Town Meeting.

BaBB receives the DID tax monies because it is the town’s designated downtown organization under the state’s Downtown Program. Participation in the program allows Brattleboro access to tax incentives and grants.

A stipulation of the program is that the town designate an organization that focuses on the downtown, and that it establish a consistent funding stream for the designated organization.

‘More-realistic’ dues and donations expected

Other changes in the budget: reductions to the number of membership dues and donations, which O’Connor called more realistic. The organization budgeted approximately $2,000 more for a Web consultant. Funds for cleaning services fell by $2,000.

BaBB also gave the Literary Fest its own budget. BaBB acts as a fiscal agent for the fall festival, extending its educational nonprofit status for the event, though the Literary Fest Committee provides all necessary funds.

The work plan for fiscal year 2015 followed the four areas of focus, called the Main Street Four Point Approach, outlined by Vermont’s Downtown Program. The approach includes maintaining a strong downtown organization; improving the downtown’s economy; enhancing the downtown’s physical appearance; and marketing.

BaBB will continue its facade improvement program, which provides matching funds up to $500 for property owners to repair their buildings and give them a facelift, said Simons.

The beautification program — flowers around town in the spring and the fall — will continue. BaBB is preparing for the holiday shopping season and December Fest. The organization will help with lighting the downtown for a start, said Simons.

Committees make it happen

Ongoing work includes that of the promotions committee, which is developing the website www.brattleboro.com and marketing the downtown.

The economic restructuring committee will continue its efforts to build a database for property owners to list spaces for rent. The committee will develop information to recruit new businesses to the area and support entrepreneurs.

BaBB also highlighted completed items from its current 2014 work plan: Oft-criticized for its lack of communication with downtown merchants, BaBB acted to improve conversations by developing a “comprehensive, up-to-date database” of downtown property owners and businesses.

BaBB held its first merchant meeting to discuss issues facing downtown and the December Fest holiday celebration on Oct. 16. It also hosted the state’s Downtown Action Team in September. The downtown spring and fall flower program was in full swing this year.

Member Bob Stevens of Stevens & Associates asked how BaBB would re-vision itself once Strolling of the Heifers has taken over the River Garden.

Simons said she anticipated that the Downtown Action Team’s report to the town, due in the new year, would help provide the new vision.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #229 (Wednesday, November 13, 2013). This story appeared on page A1.

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