The group had brought in Paul Bruhn, the Executive Director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, to lead the meeting and who is unquestionably, the foremost authority, when it comes to the preservation of historic buildings in Vermont.
The structure at the center of the discussion, known locally as the Music Hall, had not heard a note of music within its walls for nearly a century. The four story-plus wooden building, built in the latter half of the 19th century, has been unused for decades and is a prime candidate for a "tear down."
By all accounts the building does not meet any of today's fire, electrical, structural and ADA codes. However, these internal negatives do not distract from the building's majestic sidewalk view.
Estimates of cost to repair the structure were discussed at the meeting and were in the range of $2.1 million. A gigantic sum of money considering the fact that the ad hoc group of residents voiced that the building once renovated and remodeled, could be used by a consortium of non-profit organizations as "good community gathering place."
I am somewhat bewildered. Am I the only one in touch with reality? In these difficult economic times, to spend over $2 million for a meeting
But before I state the reasons this idea should be passed on, let me state why I believe I have "a seat at the table" (not that I have any interest to be 'at the table').
For 10 years I had worked with Paul Bruhn, as a trustee of the PTV's real estate non-profit subsidiary, Preservation Realty Trust. During those exciting years, the Trust played a significant role in preserving two of Vermont's historic properties - the Lake House, at Grand Isle and the Latchis Hotel and Theatre complex in Brattleboro.
These historic properties had two things in common - major sources of funding, and a well thought out plan for their ultimate operation and maintenance. The latter, being one of the ""major demons" for nonprofits in Vermont that own buildings.
Additional credentials that allow for me to "stay at the table" are two decades of service to Hildene, decades of service to nonprofits, and a career as a real estate developer.
No one ever wishes to squash the enthusiasm, spirit and the energy that volunteers bring to a nonprofit cause. Nevertheless, there are occasions when the reality of the times must be considered. And in the case of the greater Manchester area, two come to mind.
Existing and long serving area nonprofit organizations are suffering and have been for many years. Funding sources, volunteers, trustees and visitors have been on the decline and this came about well before the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, several area institutions have or are about to announce significant capital campaigns - seeking to raise millions of dollars for their building projects. To add another $2 million project to the mix would be disastrous.
Another factor that plays into not going forward with the Music Hall project is the dire straits of the local economy. In recent years, many retail establishments and other businesses have shut their doors. The one's that are still in operation continue to face a challenging fiscal environment.
Nonprofits don't operate in a vacuum. They depend on the success of the local economy. It was the very reason, so many nonprofits flourished in the late 1980s and 90's - their success, in part, paralleled the economic and tourist resurgence that took place outside their doors.
If Manchester nonprofits need a "gathering place" spending million's to establish one is foolish and unnecessary. There are at least a dozen other local places to gather.
Paul Bruhn's motto has always been, "he's never seen a building that he couldn't save." Paul, the Music Hall should be passed on.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.