River Garden Finances

Does anyone have a comprehensive file on how much public monies were invested in the Robert Gibson River Garden?  At a recent Selectboard meeting, a member of the Town Finance Committee asked the question. After some thought, the Town Manager said the Town probably could not answer that specific question. It could only account for Town funds that went into the property, not all public funds.

The Brattleboro Reformer ran an article on August 2, 2000, “Rivergarden project receives helping hand from governor,” by Tom Marshall that had some accounting, up until that time. It recounts former Gov. Howard Dean handing over a check for $148,725. Presumably this was the second $150,000 installment from the VT legislature, appropriated on May 24, 2000 (Act 148). The first $150,000 appropriation, the bulk of which went toward the purchase,  was approved on May 19, 1999 (Act 29).

The article goes on to mention $323,000 in Federal Urban Revitalization funds. That article also notes the renovation project budget grew from $500,000 to $700,000 and $150,000 more needed to be raised.  

Latter in 2001, Building a Better Brattleboro secured $40,000 from the Town in return for “a commitment from [BaBB] … to become a downtown tax district.”  “BaBB Funded”, by Tom Marshall, Brattleboro Reformer, December 12, 2001.

Also on record, as of October 22, 2008, is a loan from the USDA for $140,000.

Nevertheless, the total is well over $700,000, and still counting.

It has been stated that there is a line of credit from the BS&L, but it’s unclear as of this writing what the balance or ceiling is on the line. Other amounts have not, as of yet, been nailed down: a rumored appropriation “earmark” from former US Sen. Jeffords’ office; the amount of the contribution from the BUHS Class of 1961 to renovate the River Garden Terrace, “that all may enjoy”. A review of both Town records and BaBB records, perhaps undertaken by the Town Finance Committee, could answer how much of the Tax Improvement District money financed the River Garden. Who else could  take on the job to provide a full accounting?

From all of the above, however, it is clear  that whether you are a business or business property owner in the Downtown Improvement District, a Vermont State taxpayer or Federal taxpayer, you surely have skin in this game.  

Comments | 9

  • It is for the public...

    But a few say the Town shouldn’t or can’t own it. “We can’t afford it…” seems to be the official stance, but the taxpayers have never been asked if it is something they want or don’t want.

    I hope Town Meeting representatives make an offer to take it over from the organization and keep it as a downtown covered park.

    • It IS for the public ...

      What Chris has suggested might be appropriate, particularly since the River Garden may have had to be classified as a “park” to receive the initial State funding for the purchase of its lot. One of the earliest documents referring to the giving of this $150,000 in state, taxpayer-funded money called it a “park”, and required that it be named after Robert H. Gibson.

      The Town administration has apparently made some sort of decision to deflect or defeat any effort to get the Town to take responsibility for the River Garden. But if it was originally conceived as a “park”, with State monies allocated for that purpose, then why can’t it be administered by the Department of Parks and Recreation? I would like the Town to consider this possibility more fully, and publicly.

      As designed and funded, the River Garden is part of our commons, and must not be allowed to pass into private, for-profit or individual hands.

    • It IS for the public...

      Quote: “But a few say the Town shouldn’t or can’t own it.”
      Q: When does “a few” make decisions for “the many”?
      A: When the “few” have more power than the many.
      Q: And who, then might be that “few”?
      A: The Town administration who “has apparently made some sort of decision to deflect or defeat any effort to get the Town to take responsibility for the River Garden”? (JW)
      Q: If such a decision has been made, was it made publicly or privately, and who participated?
      A: Answer unknown.

      Bottom line: As designed and funded, the River Garden is part of our commons, and must not be allowed to pass into private, for-profit or individual hands. (Quoting John W.)

      My 2 cents:
      I can’t address NEED, as that is a quantifiable consideration beyond my ability to compute. However, I feel that if a poll were taken, the citizens of Brattleboro would overwhelmingly say they WANT the River Garden more than they want a new Cop Shop.
      And another penny: There’s a lot of room downstairs at the RG. Could the Police station be moved?

      • It IS for the public ...

        “There’s a lot of room downstairs at the RG. Could the Police station be moved?”

        It’s nice to bring in an element of humor. I tried that yesterday when I was walking downtown with my wife, and exclaimed “I know … the River Garden can become the new skatepark!”

    • Is it on the market yet?

      Unless I missed something (entirely possible), is the property currently for sale? Listed at a price?

      Not sure how you can ask the taxpayers if it is something they want or don’t want when a private organization currently owns the property (for the public good, sure) and hasn’t yet officially put the space on the market.

      • Is it on the market yet?

        To call BaBB a “private organization” is somewhat disingenuous … it receives $78,000 in taxpayer funding as the designated Downtown Improvement District organization, and it has received over $700,000 over time as the primary developer of the River Garden into what it is today … not counting the part of their tax monies and grant monies that have gone into running the River Garden during well over a decade of their stewardship of it.

        But this is an interesting question because it’s apparent that BaBB has considered selling the River Garden even before they took this question public. Also, I have it on good authority that they have even considered selling it to a private for-profit entity or person … this raises questions in and of itself.

        Obviously the River Garden is not formally on the market yet — BaBB recognizes the political exigencies of this, so they will have at least one public meeting about the River Garden, and are considering issuing a RfP (request for proposals).

        I continue to favor working with BaBB to create a new board, a new organization, to take the River Garden over and run it on its own merits.

        Part of the “rub”, as it were, is the fact that the River Garden cost over $700,000 to build, and its current depreciated value is over $500,000. BaBB is apparently ‘testing the waters’ to see how much money they could possibly get for it, and says (if you ask them) that they would like to see a purchase price of over $200,000. To what extent would this be “profiting” from something that was built with a small fortune in public funding?

        So in terms of whether it is a “private” organization, is BaBB, by its intrinsic nature, a ‘blonde’ or a ‘brunette’ … perhaps only their hairdresser knows for sure. But it might be in the interest of varying corpse of lawyers or politicians or entrepreneurs to convince them one way or the other, and being professionally trained as a non-profit administrator, I would counsel BaBB to be true to the public interests that their primary funding sources and their charitable support continue to reflect.

      • Is it on the market yet?

        This is the clearest answer I’ve found to that question:

        “Building a Better Brattleboro, the business organization that is funded with assessments on properties within the downtown district, announced that it wants to sell the River Garden, and the money needed to keep the doors of the River Garden open has not been included in the proposed 2014 BABB budget.

        “The 2013 budget runs until June 30.

        “And while BABB has made it clear that the organization wants to sell the downtown property there are still a lot of questions to answer about how the ownership of the River Garden might ultimately be transferred.”

        ~ “The Robert H. Gibson River Garden’s future is still in limbo,”
        Brattleboro Reformer, January 25, 2013

        Article 12 of the BaBB bylaws state “A two-thirds vote of the membership shall be required to sell or mortgage assets of the corporation not in the regular course of business ….”

  • Sort of closed?

    Does anyone know the reason for the River Garden being partitioned off like it is? I was told on the street that it’s because it is being sold, or up for sale. But that’s a little difficult to believe. They still allow access to the bathrooms, and are still heating the place. It seems that if they’re concerned about damage at all they’d close up the bathrooms (or the whole thing) and just allow access to the tables and chairs.

    • homeless

      It was partitioned to limit the number of homeless people taking up residence all day while they wait for shelters to re-open.

      It will be interesting to see if Town Meeting Reps offer up a proposal to take over the property. I heard one suggestion, to boost BaBB’s allocation so they can continue to run it, but I think that’s a mistake. If people in town want it as a downtown covered park, it should be town owned and maintained.

      BaBB isn’t the right organization to run it. It distracts from the downtown program to maintain the building, and the passion for trying to make it “work” has waned after 10 hard years many smart business people trying to make it work.

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