Brooks House project moves forward

Three new investors join company; plans afoot to buy building by fall

BRATTLEBORO — Three investors have thrown their hats into the ring to help keep the Brooks House reconstruction project to its autumn 2013 reopening.

Pete Richards, Drew Richards, and Ben Taggard have become partners in Mesabi, L.L.C., a new company formed to restore the Brooks House, the 1871 downtown landmark that caught fire in April 2011.

The trio's undisclosed financial investment will help support pre-construction activities like concept, design, permitting, and marketing.

Owner Jonathan Chase said he did not want to abandon the building that his father, Norman, bought in the 1970s, and pledged to rebuild.

But in a surprise announcement on April 3, Chase said that he would hand the project over to Bob Stevens, the head of the local architectural and engineering firm Stevens & Associates, and to lawyer Craig Miskovich.

Stevens and Miskovich will complete the rebuild, and they created Mesabi, the corporation for the project that will eventually own the building.

According to Allyson Wendt, marketing director at Stevens & Associates, which will finalize the architectural design and engineering for the building, the project required an initial equity investment. This investment allows the company to purchase the building and for the project to qualify for funding programs like historic or new-market tax credits.

Wendt said the team is also pursuing green building options.

Pete Richards, a vice president and risk management consultant at The Richards Group, a full-service insurance and financial services firm based in Brattleboro, said in a phone interview that he, his brother Drew, and their cousin Ben have managed projects with larger price tags than the Brooks House restoration.

But, he said, the Brooks House marks the trio's first personal investment.

According to Richards, Stevens and Miskovich approached them after announcing taking over the project.

Richards credited their decision to invest to a deep respect for Stevens and Miskovich and a desire to support their community.

“The Brooks House is the centerpiece of downtown,” Richards said.

Richards said his brother, cousin, and their young families are connected to Brattleboro.

He hopes to see the Brooks House, which abuts Main Street, High Street, and the Harmony parking lot, once again stand at a hub of activity.

Richards, who said he can't imagine a property with a greater effect on downtown, added that it's no secret he would like to see Community College of Vermont (CCV) move into the building. But he would also like to see residents, restaurants, and retail spaces return to the downtown landmark.

“[Brooks House could be] an energizing force for Main Street and the Harmony parking lot,” he said.

According to a press release from Stevens & Associates, the Brooks House team is now moving forward with design and seeking to pre-lease portions of the building.

Stephan Morse, of Newfane, former speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives who now works as president and C.E.O. of the Windham Foundation, has also stepped forward as a hired consultant to provide strategic advice, including locating an anchor tenant, a step the investors say is critical to the project's viability.

“Many people are pulling for a successful redevelopment of the Brooks House. We hired Stephan so all of these folks would have a single point of contact on issues like attracting CCV to downtown,” said Miskovich in a press release.

The team's timeline includes purchasing the building in the fall of 2012, and completing construction in late 2013.

Interested commercial or residential clients should contact Wendt at [email protected] or 802-257-9329, ext. 112.

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