Proposed building next to bridge in Middlebury clears hurdle
MIDDLEBURY — After hearing a presentation from two NexBridge Partners LLC principals on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard unanimously voted to form a committee to work toward a memorandum of understanding with NexBridge to create a multi-use development behind the Ilsley Library and next to the Cross Street Bridge.
NexBridge partners Bryan Phelps and Rob Alberts presented a half-dozen different concepts at the selectboard meeting for between one and four buildings that would total about 60,000 square feet of mostly office space and apartments, including two levels of parking, a public plaza, and what they called enhanced riverfront access.
All were preliminary concepts, they said, and designed to show NexBridge’s willingness to be flexible moving forward and listen to town and community members’ feedback on what should happen on the town-owned, wedge-shaped parcel that is bordered by the river, the bridge, the parking lot behind the library, and the road from that lot down toward the river.
“All of these images are strictly starting points for discussion,” Phelps said. “These are conceptual designs.” NexBridge was asked to present an update of the project to the selectboard, so it could determine how or if it wanted to proceed.
Selectman Nick Artim, a member of the committee that voted 9-1 to recommend to the selectboard that it move forward with NexBridge in developing the parcel, urged the board to do so.
Artim reminded the board that NexBridge was ultimately the only firm that responded to the town’s request for proposals to develop the parcel, cited NexBridge’s ties to Middlebury, noted NexBridge was willing to accept a lower profit margin because of its local connections, and said the design concepts had been prepared thoughtfully.
“They’re our people. They’re local,” Artim said. “This group really does care for the town.”
NexBridge includes five Addison County entrepreneurs: Alberts, principal of EastView at Middlebury and founder of Middlebury Fitness; Becky Dayton, owner of the Vermont Book Shop; Chris Eaton, involved in residential real estate development and solar equipment sales; Aaron Harris, principal of Tiger Ventures LLC; and Phelps, a real estate professional and recent owner of Noonie Deli. Bread Loaf Corp., Phelps Engineering and LandWorks are also involved.
In describing the project, which all acknowledge could be years in the making, Phelps said the current market led NexBridge to focus more on office space and apartments rather than retail, although he could foresee some retail, including possibly a café in the public plaza area nearest the southwest corner.
Selectwoman Laura Asermily asked if some of the housing would be affordable, and Phelps said he could make no promises. One avenue of funding, he said, would include tax credits that would require some units be designated as affordable. But if NexBridge went for more conventional financing, Phelps said, “I don’t know if the project is financially feasible with a large component of affordable housing.”
Phelps said white-collar workers are having trouble finding apartments in Middlebury, a situation that companies in turn say causes difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers. “It seems to me that’s what we need, middle-income housing,” added Selectman Gary Baker.
Selectwoman Susan Shashok asked how “the financial side would work for the town,” including the purchase of the land and the boost to the grand list.
Phelps said the variables were tough to assess at this point, including how much a project would be valued at for tax purposes and what a projected profit margin could be. Those talks would have to be held down the road, he said, “once we have our design accepted” and “we could move forward with a full analysis.”
Shashok said residents have been asking her the same questions, and that she appreciated his response.
“It’s not ‘Shark Tank’, but these questions are appropriate to ask,” she said.
Phelps said he understood.
“We’re just looking for a commitment from the town before we invest more time and resources,” he said.
Asermily also asked about parking, something she said many in town have also wondered about.
Phelps said NexBridge added as much as financially feasible in its conceptual designs, even though “structural parking” was the most expensive component, and it preserved all of the parking behind the library, even though some of the spaces lie on the lot to be transferred.
“We took the approach in almost all of the concepts of maximizing parking on the site,” Phelps said, adding that parking studies might also show that peak demand for office and residential uses would not coincide.
Phelps and Alberts also said they would be willing to adjust any construction schedule around the looming railroad bridge reconstruction project.
When and if the town and its residents and NexBridge agree on a design and reach an agreement, Phelps said it would take at least a year to obtain local and state permits and then 18 months to build.
But the first steps, working toward a project that everybody appreciates, will be critical, he said.
“How we pull this together will be a conversation early on that will be very important,” Phelps said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].