Business & Economy

Brattleboro unveils $30 million downtown development project

  • Brattleboro building

BRATTLEBORO — The leaders of two prominent downtown landmarks unveiled plans Tuesday for a $30 million seven-story building that would be the priciest Main Street project in town history.

The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and M&S Development — the firm that restored the local cornerstone Brooks House block after a 2011 fire for a then-record $24 million — want to construct a 55,000-square-foot arts and apartment complex near the junction of the Connecticut River and Whetstone Brook.

“Twenty-first century community development must include not only housing, restaurants, retail and offices but cultural and public spaces that draw people together,” M&S principal Bob Stevens said in announcing the project.

Plans call for museum galleries, classrooms and a café at street level and two lower floors, as well as apartments and a rooftop sculpture garden on four upper floors.

“This project will provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to discover art,” museum director Danny Lichtenfeld said, “and it will encourage enduring economic and civic vitality in Brattleboro and the surrounding region.”

The building will take advantage of its waterfront location through public terraces leading from sidewalks to a footbridge over the Whetstone Brook and a kayak launch into the Connecticut River.

“Brattleboro has a stunning waterfall in the heart of downtown,” BMAC building committee chair Jim Meltzer said, “but access is currently limited in such a way that very few people get to see it.”

The museum now operates out of the town’s century-old train station across the street from the proposed building. Under the plan, its rotating exhibits and education programs would move to the new space and the historic depot’s main gallery would turn into a long-term home for works by Vermont painter and pastelist Wolf Kahn and his wife, fellow noted artist Emily Mason.

“We believe there should be a place the public can go, year after year, to experience the extraordinary artwork of these two American masters,” museum capital campaign committee co-chair Margaret Everitt said. “Where better than Brattleboro, the place they have spent the past five decades gaining inspiration and honing their craft?”

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The museum, having studied the successful expansion projects of such New England institutions as the Shelburne Museum and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, predicts its annual attendance will double from 16,000 currently to an estimated 35,000 when the project is complete.

Developers will work to raise money through next summer and finalize plans and permits the following year for a groundbreaking as early as 2021 and ribbon-cutting in 2022.

The museum is aiming to collect $12 million in charitable gifts for its portion of the project, while M&S wants to secure $10 million to $12 million in equity and financing for the apartment piece. The two will seek another $6 million to $8 million in federal and state tax credits and grants to fund the rest.

Stevens’ firm has been part of downtown’s two most recent developments, the $10 million Brattleboro Food Co-op and affordable housing complex that opened in 2012 and the Brooks House that reopened in 2014.

M&S also is helping to renovate Bennington’s Putnam Block and surrounding buildings as part of a $56 million project.

“We know that investing in vibrant downtowns creates jobs, increases property values, and attracts young families,” Stevens said.

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Kevin O'Connor

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