Sales talks proceeding for Battell Block

MIDDLEBURY — Owners of the Battell Block confirmed this week they are in discussions with potential buyers for what is the largest, mixed-use commercial property in downtown Middlebury.
Built between 1892 and 1898 by the legendary Joseph Battell, the multi-story Battell Block includes a combined total of 68,000 gross square feet of space at the nexus of Merchants Row and Main Street. Approximately 52,000 square feet of the complex is rented to a variety of retail, office and residential enterprises. Bruce Hiland, principal of Battell LLC, said the property is currently fully rented, as is usually the case.
The Battell Block is not officially listed with any real estate agent, Hiland stressed. Rather, the Battell partners are simply discussing interest expressed in the property by “several interested parties” who also happen to have connections to the town of Middlebury, he explained.
“Due to individuals’ lifestyle changes, retirement and investment rebalancing, we have decided to discuss the opportunity for purchase with a limited, self-identified group of potential stewards,” Hiland said through a written response to the Independent’s inquiry about the property’s current status.
“In the event the right transaction isn’t achieved, Battell LLC will make a more public effort.”
The current owners have controlled the Battell Block for the past 30 years.
“From the outset, we defined our role as stewards of Middlebury’s historic landmark downtown ‘center of gravity,’” Hiland said. “During our ownership, we have exercised unusual care in maintaining, managing and improving this historically significant landmark. Similarly, our selection of tenants has reflected our commitment to fostering a healthy and heterogeneous community.”
The Battell Block is currently assessed by the town at $1,849,500, according to town records. The annual property tax bill is just under $49,000.
Hiland said Battell LLC partners decided three years ago to begin listening to offers for the property. It is a decision he said was independent of concerns over the possible disruption that a looming rail bridges replacement project will bring to downtown Middlebury, beginning next year. Replacement of the Main Street and Merchants Row spans is expected to take around two years, during which downtown merchants, residents and shoppers will contend with noise, dust, detours and artificial light at night.
“Who knows when that project will start, let alone in what form it will eventually take?” Hiland said, alluding to recent delays and tweaks to the estimated $40 million undertaking.
A deal, if one is struck, would likely take several months to consummate, according to Hiland. But he said a transfer of ownership would not affect the current tenants of the property. Tenants currently include Community College of Vermont, 51 Main, Edgewater Gallery on the Green, Carol’s Hungry Mind Café and Sabai Sabai.
Wendy Hirdler, president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, said she’s not surprised that the Battell Block is drawing interest from prospective buyers.
“It’s a great opportunity for someone to invest in the vitality of downtown Middlebury,” she said.
Battell LLC has set up a website (www.battellblock.com/property) that describes the property. The website also alludes to a 2014 study the owners commissioned to explore whether the historic building might be modified to provide upscale condominium residences on the upper floors.
“The study was completed by Bread Loaf Corporation, a prominent integrated planning, design, and construction firm, and confirmed that such a project was indeed feasible within the inherent constraints of a historic downtown landmark,” reads a statement on the website. The study specifically confirmed the potential for “five one-bedroom and 16 two-bedroom residences, adding a luxury penthouse level and enclosed parking.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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