Four developers vie for downtown Middlebury parcel

MIDDLEBURY — Four Vermont companies, one with a decidedly local flavor, are in the running to develop 1.42 acres of prime real estate in downtown Middlebury.
At issue is a town-owned parcel of land located behind the Ilsley Public Library, off Bakery Lane. Middlebury officials have, for the past several years, sought to market the property for some kind of mixed-used development that would complement the existing business scene and draw more shoppers to the downtown area.
Middlebury College had been a partner in that marketing effort, as it at one point owned a portion of the land. But the institution turned its share of the property over to the town last year so that the community could have sole control over its disposition.
Middlebury town officials would prefer to sell the property to a developer, but “may also consider long-term lease arrangements” of up to 40 years, according to a newly released Request for Proposal, known as an RFP, for the land.
Middlebury formed an Economic Development Initiative (EDI) Committee that made a request for qualifications from companies interested in fashioning proposals for the property. Four Vermont companies responded: DEW Properties LLC of Williston; Redstone of Burlington; The Retrovest Company, also of Burlington; and NexBridge Partners LLC, made up of four Addison County businesspeople.
“I think we’d hoped that a few more (companies) would participate,” Nick Artim, chairman of the EDI Committee, said of the level interest shown by the business community in the Middlebury parcel. “But developers tend to put their resources where there might be multiple project opportunities. We’re very happy with the four we received, and we know we are going to get something good out of this.”
The Middlebury selectboard late last month voiced confidence in all of the companies that answered the request for qualifications, and invited all four to now submit proposals to develop the EDI property. The town has drafted some guidelines within the RFP for the four companies to follow in preparing their submissions. The companies are being asked to make sure to craft plans that, among other things:
•  Demonstrate an “understanding of the historic development pattern of Middlebury’s village center.” Site planning and building design should reflect a project that is harmonious with the local character of the area and that is not an “isolated or independent urban form.”
•  Recognize the limited public parking opportunities surrounding the site. This means developers will have to be creative in their inclusion of adequate on-site parking.
•  Reflect a commitment to making their building(s) energy efficient.
•  Will result in a project that contributes to the  “overall economic, cultural and social well being of our community.”
Developers will have an opportunity to explain their respective proposals at a series of public meetings to be held during the coming months. The first meeting is scheduled for March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Ilsley Library community room.
“The town will review development proposals received and may select one or more developers whose professional and financial qualifications and proposal are deemed meritorious,” reads the RFP. “The town will then explore the development proposal through further discussions with the selected developer(s).”
The process will ideally culminate in selection of a winning proposal that will have to navigate the community’s permitting process after successful contract negotiation with town officials. The selected company will also be vetted to establish its financial standing and ability to build the project in a timely manner, according to the RFP.
It should also be noted that town officials could ultimately reject all of the project proposals if they are judged to be lacking, or not in the town’s best interest.
“The town reserves the right to reject or modify any and all of proposals received as a result of this solicitation, to waive any formality and any technicalities, to negotiate with any and all consultants or to cancel this RFP in part or in its entirety if it is in the best interest of the town,” the RFP reads.
Middlebury Town Planner Eric Blair and Jamie Gaucher, the town’s director of business development and innovation, will coordinate the process of vetting the four companies.
“We are focused on making sure what we get is the right project for Middlebury,” Gaucher said.
Blair agreed.
“This isn’t just about getting a project in play; this is about getting the right project,” he said.
Here are brief profiles of the four companies advancing to the RFP process:
•  DEW Properties LLC. Founded by Don Wells, the company bills itself as a “one-stop development, design and construction resource.” Its résumé of projects includes 15 Blair Park in Williston; Barre City Place, the Community College of Vermont’s Rutland campus, Cobblestone Medical Office in St. Albans, and the Prospect Street Business Park in White River Junction.
The Williston company’s literature speaks of assisting its clients in obtaining financing for projects, including New Market Tax Credits and Recovery Zone Bonds.
“We are always in competition for public projects and proud of our growing reputation for selecting talented team members (architects, engineers, specialty consultants, etc.) to complement our own experience, professional staff and financial capabilities,” DEW’s inquiry to the town states.
•  Redstone. Like DEW, Redstone has also completed some major projects throughout Vermont, including the BankNorth Block in downtown Burlington, the Riverhouse in Winooski, and the Shelburne Inn Residences. The Burlington company has also built some major projects in the town of Middlebury, including the Marble Works Residences, the Battell Hill Town Homes, and Catamount Park — a five-building complex that currently hosts the Counseling Service of Addison County and Porter Rehabilitation & Orthopedic Services, among others.
“Our goal is to carefully assemble a team with exceptional qualifications in place-making to maximize efficient land use, provide high quality sustainable design and construction, achieve expedited permitting success, and provide local accountability to the town,” reads the Redstone letter of inquiry from J. Larry Williams Jr., principal of the company.
“This project will be carefully planned and built to last, remaining an important asset in our portfolio. We will strive to create a project that the town will be proud of and will attract commercial tenants and residents who value the synergy of co-location in a vibrant mixed-use development within a walkable downtown environment.”
•  Retrovest. The Burlington company describes itself as a “real estate development firm specializing in residential infill, urban redevelopment and adaptive reuse,” with 35 years of experience developing and managing mixed-use projects.
Retrovest promises a “collaborative approach” that would include community engagement prior to finalizing plans for the Middlebury parcel. The company does hint at the probability that the upper stories of its project would be residential, and that “branding” would be key in creating an identity for the development.
“In branding this place we would consider names that embrace the site’s physical setting and its public character,” the company’s introductory letter states.
Among the projects in Retrovest’s portfolio is Burlington’s Westlake Center, which includes two hotels, a condominium complex and a four-level parking garage.
•  NexBridge Partners. The newly formed company includes Vermont Book Shop owner Becky Dayton, EastView at Middlebury founder Rob Alberts, businessman Aaron Harris, and real estate broker Bryan Phelps. All reside in Addison County on either a full- or part-time basis.
“The mission of NexBridge Partners is to develop a plan and procure funding for a project that is fully compatible with the existing downtown, is supported by the community, and represents full, creative collaboration with the municipality, local partnerships and business and non-profit organizations,” the group’s letter of interest reads. “We established NexBridge Partners LLC exclusively for this purpose and have assembled top-notch experts in engineering, architecture, construction, financing and project management who share our commitment to Vermont’s downtowns to help us realize this project. We are not a real estate development firm, rather an organic team of individuals and firms with distinct, complementary skills and experience and unparalleled passion for this specific project.”
NexBridge officials said their first step will be to understand the needs and priorities of the town of Middlebury, downtown businesses, area nonprofits and local residents. In order to do this, the group will solicit feedback through community forums, surveys, and brainstorming sessions with local groups and business districts. The group will then analyze that feedback, determine whether the resulting ideas are economically viable, and then hold additional forums to get feedback on a specific project concept for the site.
NexBridge’s development team includes three Middlebury companies: LandWorks, Phelps Engineering and Bread Loaf Corp.
Dayton is pleased that NexBridge is in the running for the EDI property and is excited about the land’s profile and potential.
“It is a critical piece of infill development in the town of Middlebury,” Dayton said. “I am concerned about it being done properly.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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