NexBridge to make its pitch for downtown Middlebury property
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday stopped short of endorsing NexBridge as the prospective developer of town-owned land behind the Ilsley Library, instead opting to invite the local group in to further explain its proposal for a multi-story, L-shaped building on the Bakery Lane parcel that would include retail, office and residential uses and associated parking.
NexBridge is the only team currently in the running to develop the so-called “Economic Development Initiative,” or EDI, property off Bakery Lane, behind the Ilsley.
The group of Middlebury-area businesspeople was alone in responding to a request for proposals to develop the land. Three other Vermont companies considered throwing their hats into the ring, but chose to take a pass, with some stating they could not make an adequate profit margin and still build a project to meet the town’s specifications.
Middlebury’s EDI Review Committee met with some NexBridge representatives on Monday and conducted a tour of the project site. After the end of its meeting, the committee voted 9-1 to “recommend to the selectboard that they move forward with the NexBridge team and their approach to prospective development.” The panel then disbanded.
But some selectboard members on Tuesday said they did not yet know enough about the NexBridge proposal to confidently endorse the team as developers of the site. NexBridge officials have explained their basic building concept at a handful of meetings before the EDI Review Committee, but the team has not yet met directly with the selectboard.
“I want to make sure we are not putting the cart before the horse,” Selectman Brian Carpenter said, adding he is not a fan of the NexBridge plan as it is currently constituted.
“Maybe we need that next level of comfort.”
Selectwoman Susan Shashok agreed.
“I want to connect with them before I vote for them,” Shashok said of NexBridge. “That’s not unreasonable, I don’t think.”
Resident John Freidin was the lone dissenter in the review committee’s 9-1 vote. Freidin had argued that the NexBridge plan would result in insufficient parking and an inadequate financial return to the town, and would deliver an affordable housing component that would be beyond the financial means of many low-income citizens.
NexBridge includes a partnership of five Addison County entrepreneurs: Rob Alberts, principal of the EastView at Middlebury retirement community and founder of Middlebury Fitness; Becky Dayton, owner of the Vermont Book Shop; Chris Eaton, long involved in residential real estate development and solar equipment sales; Aaron Harris, principal of Tiger Ventures LLC; and Bryan Phelps, a real estate professional and recent owner of Noonie Deli in Middlebury.
NexBridge will be invited to present its plans at the next selectboard meeting, on Oct. 27.
Some town officials warned that NexBridge will soon need a vote of confidence from the town in order to commit additional resources to the next steps in fleshing out their plan for the EDI site.
“In order for them to move forward, there is an investment of time and money,” said Selectwoman Donna Donahue, who was also a member of the EDI Review Committee.
Selectman Nick Artim agreed.
“It will require a fair bit of funding to see what these structures will look like,” said Artim, who was also a member of the review committee.
Board members acknowledged that they could, at any time, reject the NexBridge proposal and move to a second round of soliciting developers for the site. For more than a decade now, town and Middlebury College officials have targeted the EDI property as a prime spot for development that could complement existing downtown stores and services while serving as a magnet to bring more shoppers and investment to the town.
Phelps issued the following statement on behalf of NexBridge:
“NexBridge Partners is grateful to the review committee for their time, effort and valuable insights regarding the development of the EDI site. The process and time spent working with the review committee without question pushed our team to refine our concept and project details in a constructive and positive way. We are pleased that the committee overwhelmingly supports our general vision for the project and we look forward to continuing our work with the Middlebury selectboard in an effort to develop the EDI site into something special. While we are excited that we received this vote of confidence from the review committee we recognize that we are still early in this process and look forward to continued discussions with all community stakeholders as we explore what is best for this site and the town of Middlebury.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].