In 2015, VCRD brought its Community Visit process to St. Johnsbury where residents identified a number of action ideas for future progress in town. "Redevelop and Revitalize Downtown Building" was one of the ideas the community identified. This article shares the great work going forward on that effort!
By Todd Wellington And Amy Ash Nixon, as seen in the Caledonian Record: http://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/new-owner-buying-depot-square-apart...
The owner of St. Johnsbury’s Depot Square Apartments has reached an agreement to sell the landmark and occasionally infamous building at the heart of the downtown to a non-profit housing developer and local officials couldn’t be happier.
Burlington based Housing Vermont said Friday it has signed a purchase and sales agreement for the Depot Square property located at 10 Eastern Avenue and that the organization plans to invest millions on an extensive, building-wide redevelopment of the property for future use as affordable housing and commercial opportunities.
“This is great news,” said selectman Jeff Moore Friday. “I am beyond happy this day has finally come. Depot Square has long been considered one of the anchor buildings in our downtown. The sale of this building is not only pivotable, but it’s essential for the revitalization efforts.”
“I’m glad that it’s gone through,” said selectman Kevin Oddy. “It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the downtown and it’s something that’s been needing to happen for a very long time.”
Town Manager Chad Whitehead said word of the signed agreement was welcome news in the town offices and that the new owners come to the project with an outstanding reputation.
“We are eager to see how their plans for redevelopment of that property take shape,” said Whitehead. “Housing Vermont has a great track record with development in numerous communities throughout Vermont. Their willingness to invest in this property in St Johnsbury is a huge vote of confidence in the town.”
St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tara Holt agreed.
“The commitment of Housing Vermont speaks to the faith they have in St. Johnsbury,” said Holt on Friday. “I am buoyed by the healthy rate of improvement projects we are seeing in town and the positive reception these improvements are receiving.”
Housing Vermont says it is purchasing the building from long time owner Herb G. Berezin and his Massachusetts-based company Mt. Holyoke Management for $1,850,000. Housing Vermont says it’s scheduled to take ownership of the building on or before July 30, 2018.
The property is assessed by the town at $1,252,600. Annual property taxes are $32,586.00. According to town records, Berezin has owned the properly for over 25 years.
Housing Vermont says once the deal is complete the residential portion of the building will be operated as is for 12 to 24 months. The redevelopment of the building is then expected to take another year. During the renovation, Housing Vermont will work closely with the building’s current occupants to ensure they have safe and affordable housing.
Existing Depot Square tenants will not be asked to move immediately and exisitng tenants will be offered the opportunity to return post renovation, said Nancy Owens, Housing Vermont’s president, on Friday
Housing Vermont said the distinctive brick building with 47 rental units on the upper floors and multiple ground floor commercial spaces at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Railroad Street is in need of substantial renovations.
“These new investments in the Depot Square property will greatly benefit St. Johnsbury’s downtown and the community as a whole,” said Owens. “The Depot Square property has immense potential to enhance the downtown community and bolster the economic climate in the St. Johnsbury area.”
But Housing Vermont says full renovations are probably going to take some time because the organization still needs to raise capital for the project, which could run as much as $8-10 million, “in big, round numbers,” said Owens.
Housing Vermont said it will make the commercial space within the building available to potential tenants immediately.
According to Owens, there is about 10,000 square feet of space on the street level, which has been vacant as long as a decade and that a Chinese restaurant was the last tenant on the first floor and closed many years ago.
“The whole corner is essentially boarded up,” said Owens. She said getting the commercial space on the ground floor filled with new life is an immediate priority.
“I think it’s absolutely critical,” said Owens.
Summit Properties, a South Burlington based management and development company which currently operates affordable senior apartments at the St. Johnsbury House, will be the property manager at Depot Square. Housing Vermont already owns Passumpsic North and South housing developments in St. Johnsbury and is a part-owner of Moose River and Mountain View apartment buildings.
Owens said Housing Vermont became aware of the property and became interested in purchasing it after the organization took part several years ago in the Community Visit process brought to town through the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
Owens said she knows Depot Square has had problems over the years including widely reported bed bug infestations and criminal activity but the hope is to usher in a new era.
Selectman Moore says he has similar hopes.
“I think the purchase of Depot Square by Housing Vermont will be a giant step forward in the town’s revitalization efforts,” said Moore.