Community Barn offers $500K for college’s Stone Mill

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously agreed to waive the town’s right of first refusal to acquire the “Stone Mill” building at 3 Mill St., thus freeing Middlebury College to sell the historic structure to Community Barn Ventures (CBV) for a sum of $500,000.
Tuesday’s action doesn’t make the sale a done deal — the college and CBV must now close on an agreement. If the sale goes through, CBV owners Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane plan to redevelop the building into what they described in a joint statement as “a new daily destination for the greater Middlebury community.”
They hope to finalize in January the purchase of the building near the base of the Otter Creek Falls in downtown Middlebury’s Frog Hollow district. Rainey and Cullinane promised to elaborate on their plans within a few weeks, but said they intend to provide opportunities for retail, food and work spaces.
“We are very excited to reimagine how our community can enjoy this iconic building,” Rainey said. “We want to honor its history while creating new opportunities to enhance the vibrancy and offerings in downtown Middlebury.”
They also confirmed that CBV planned to remain in its Main Street location at least through next year and has renewed its lease through 2019.
Middlebury College acquired the Stone Mill building from Lance Phelps more than a decade ago. It was the former headquarters of Phelps Engineering.
College students have used much of the upstairs space for “experiential learning projects,” while the building’s primary tenant, the Storm Café, has continued its long run at on the bottom floor.
College officials confirmed earlier this year they were considering new ownership and uses for the Stone Mill. Storm Café co-owners John and Beth Hughes reported last month they were unable to extend their lease in the building.
“The college has been evaluating future use of the Old Stone Mill for some time,” Bill Burger, Middlebury College’s vice President for communications and chief marketing officer, recently told the Independent.
“It’s a landmark in our community that also is in need of significant investment in internal systems and to ensure it meets accessibility requirements. We are committed to ensuring that any possible change in its use benefits the town first and foremost, while continuing to create opportunities for our students to use the building in creative and meaningful ways.”
The town of Middlebury acquired 3 Mill St. from Central Vermont Public Service Corp. in 1967, according to Town Counsel Benjamin Putnam. When the town sold the property in 1976, it reserved a right of first refusal if the building were ever to come back onto the market. Thus before the property can be sold to a third party, it must first be offered to the town at the same price and on the same terms as the proposed buyer.
If the selectboard had concluded that re-acquiring the Stone Mill was in Middlebury’s best interests, the board would have had to notify the seller (the college) and called a town meeting within 60 days, at which the voters would have had the final say on purchasing the property.
Selectboard members on Tuesday confirmed no such interest and wished CBV well in its pursuit and use of the property.
Community Barn Ventures is currently based at 44 Main St. in downtown Middlebury. It’s aim is to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses while supporting local community investments. The company’s services include:
•  Business plan development, strategic planning, messaging frameworks, financial analysis, social media strategy and operational efficiency reviews
•  Creation of software applications to address unique business needs and opportunities.
•  Pop-up retail and special events at their Main Street location to support awareness of unique products, ideas and offerings.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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