Brandon OKs funds for business incubator

BRANDON — The Brandon selectboard has approved a $53,700 loan that will help create incubator space for start-up businesses and expand a local fiber mill’s operations.
The funding request through the town revolving loan fund came from Park Village Partners, a limited liability corporation comprised of McKernon Group President Kevin Birchmore and Vice President Justice Cameron. The McKernon Group contracting company bought the 30,000-square-foot Building J in Park Village, the former Brandon Training School, from the state in 2010. The loan money will be used to update the electrical, water and sewer systems in the X-shaped building and renovate one wing for incubator space to attract start-up businesses.
Vermont Fiber Mill will be the first tenant with plans to establish a fiber washing facility in half of the 2,400-square-foot renovated wing space. Ed and Deb Bratton of Maple View Alpacas opened the fiber mill on their property earlier this year just up the road from Park Village. Ed Bratton told the selectboard on Nov. 5 that they have been trucking their fiber to a washing facility near Albany, N.Y., twice a week. He said this means extra time and expense, plus the New York facility specializes in washing sheep’s wool, not alpaca, mohair and cashmere fibers, which is what Vermont Fiber Mill processes.
“Considering the time and expense we incur, plus they mistreat some of our fiber,” he told the board, “we need to wash our own fiber.”
Birchmore said Park Village Partners has already spent $47,000 on Building J on roof repairs and insulation.
Brandon Economic Development Officer Steve Beck said the partial renovation is necessary because he has had a tough time finding tenants who can envision finished space in the long-empty building.
“People can’t wrap their heads around what’s possible because it’s so rough,” he said of the building. He added that the concept of creating incubator space is based on the success of the BristolWorks project in the former Autumn Harp factory in Bristol. The approximately six acres and 55,000 square feet of commercial buildings is a mixed-use redevelopment project housing health and wellness services, educational services, light manufacturing and residential components.
The main building houses the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union offices and the BristolWorks administrative offices. The next phase converted manufacturing and warehouse space and now houses the Bristol Bakery and Café commercial baking venture and the VBT (Vermont Bicycle Tours) administrative offices. The space also houses some of Porter Medical Center’s primary care and internal medicine practices, and over the next several months will add the Mountain Health physicians’ group and Aqua Vitea, manufacturers of kombucha, a fermented sweet tea.
In fact, Beck said that Brandon lost an opportunity with Salisbury-based Aqua Vitea, whose owners looked at space in Building J and opted to go to BristolWorks.
Beck also said that he, Bratton and Birchmore met with Jamie Stewart of the Rutland Economic Development Corp., who said that renovating one wing would help prospective tenants envision possibilities in the building.
“He thought the idea was great,” Beck said of Stewart. “And if the town made the initial investment, it would help convince the REDC board to move forward (on future renovations and grants for the building).”
The loan comes with a balloon payment at the end of five years.

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