Battell Block to undergo major renovations

MIDDLEBURY — The new owner of the Battell Block will soon begin major interior renovations to downtown Middlebury’s anchor property, work that will largely focus on the residential portion of the 68,000-square-foot complex at the corner of Merchants Row and Main Street.
It was last October that owner Bruce Hiland announced the sale of the Battell Block to Nedde Real Estate, a Burlington company that owns several other Middlebury properties, including the Battell Hill Townhomes off Seminary Street and the Catamount Park complex off Exchange Street. Nedde Real Estate owner Doug Nedde said Vermont architect/developer Alain Youkel is his partner in the Battell Block venture.
Nedde took a close look at the property prior to the purchase and determined the third-floor apartments needed a major overhaul. He also mapped out some upgrades to the commercial and office units in the building, erected between 1892 and 1898 by the legendary Joseph Battell.
Renovations will include installation of air conditioning to all the commercial and residential spaces. Some of the restrooms will be modernized, including disabled-access for bathrooms in the commercial units. Entrances, foyers, common areas, lighting, carpeting and the elevator system will also receive major overhauls, according to Nedde.
“It’s a total transformation of the building, from the moment you enter the front door … to the different commercial or residential apartments we are going to be renovating,” Nedde said.
Work is slated to start this June and last up to six months.
All of the current tenants have been informed about the looming renovations, according to Nedde. Some have agreed to temporarily uproot during construction and then return; others will be moving on.
“We are not terminating any leases,” Nedde said. “There are leases that are expiring, and in some cases we won’t be renewing those leases.”
He said the upcoming work will focus on three distinct areas of the multi-story building:
•  Approximately 10,000 square feet of space on two walk-out/basement levels of the building that face the Otter Creek.
Once fixed up, Nedde believes the space will be better suited to the artist workshops, office space and other personalized uses that portion of the building has historically been fulfilling.
“Some of the space is vacant now and we plan on improving it, cleaning it up and presenting it back to the market,” Nedde said. “You have a good view of the creek and natural light. It’s nice space and has been under-utilized in the past.”
•  Second-floor commercial space that includes the Community College of Vermont’s Middlebury branch. These improvements will mainly take place during the summer in order to minimize disruption to CCV classes.
“We’re working with CCV to design floor plan, with additional improvements for their space,” Nedde said.
He is negotiating with some potential new tenants eyeing office space on the second-floor level.
•  The third floor, where perhaps the most striking improvements will take place. Nedde said the current 21 apartments on the third-floor level will be turned into “18 new, modern, high-end” apartments, ranging in size from lofts to two-bedroom units. All will be endowed with new kitchens, bathrooms, air conditioning and washer-dryers.
Nedde described the Battell Block’s current 21 apartments as being “fully functioning, but they have not been updated in 20 to 30 years.”
Monthly rents for the improved apartments will range from around $800 to $2,200, depending on size and amenities, according to Nedde.
“We want to provide a new apartment living experience on the third floor,” Nedde said, adding his research has indicated a demand for more upscale rental units in downtown Middlebury.
The retail dominated portion of the Battell Block — the first-floor, street-level area that includes such businesses as 51 Main, Carol’s Hungry Mind Café and Edgewater Gallery — will not be renovated at this time, according to Nedde.
“All commercial first floor tenants have leases that will continue and are doing well,” Nedde said. “Our thinking is that the improvements we will be doing in other parts of the building will drive more business to the downtown and the Battell Block commercial and retail tenants.”
   NEW BATTELL BLOCK owner Doug Nedde stands in the outdated kitchen in one of the building’s apartment units. Nedde plans to renovate many of the units and upgrade the kitchens.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Nedde is closely following plans to replace the rail bridges on Main Street and Merchants Row. That process will begin this spring with the planned installation of temporary bridges at both locations.
“I don’t think it will be affecting our tenants that much,” he said of the temporary bridge installations. Nedde noted access to the Battell Block will continue during that work, though he said he’ll be concerned if a significant number of parking spaces are temporarily lost on Merchants Row and Main Street.
He said permanent replacement of the two spans will be “a very positive thing for downtown Middlebury,” and added it would be premature for him to comment on that larger project’s potential impacts on the Battell Block.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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