Back in 2006, there was a community discussion about the potential uses of Barre’s historic Firehouse. I attended this meeting and enjoyed how it was moderated; it was done in an open and welcoming manner. Following this discussion, a public call for proposals was made. I understand that like many processes of this type, viable proposals needed to demonstrate to a review committee a multi-year business plan detailing a sustainable project and other supporting documentation. The results of this process have been impressive, with the current varied uses of the building including a small area paying tribute to the history of the Firehouse.
Studio Place Arts (SPA), the nonprofit organization that renovated the historic Nichols Block on Barre’s Main Street and created a nonprofit art center from scratch, was also spawned through a competitive, public process more than 20 years ago.
I have suggested that Barre City host an open, competitive process for seeking the next uses of the Wheelock House. I was pleased to learn there will be a community discussion onsite July 9 at 6 p.m. Ideally, the outcomes of such a meeting would include a description of such a public process: (1) an outline for an RFP process and proposal deadline; (2) a determination of how the property would be priced (e.g., variable based on work undertaken by applicant); (3) identification of special covenants required by Barre City; (4) description of the process for assembling a review team that would bring forward proposal recommendations for discussion at the Council for its final discussion and vote; (5) brainstorming about potential parties and uses for the property; and (6) discussion about outreach to these parties and the public.
Certainly, the ideas already being discussed among Council members should be included in this mix. If those are strong ideas, they will stand the test of time.
It’s exciting to think about an RFP process that would almost certainly reveal options we aren’t currently considering. For example, what if the Granite City Grocery supporters proposed a small hub of operation and a two-day a week mini farmer’s market? What if a local community college proposed a satellite hub for their operations and offered night classes in technology and other skills to people seeking to improve job market skills? What if a successful small business wanted to “test the water” in Barre City with a new idea (e.g. an incubator space), with their eye on expanding their enterprise to our city in the future. What if …
The ideas I have tossed out in this piece are simply a few of my thoughts; none of them are based on conversations with responsible parties. My hope is to see a public process created to attract well-considered proposals from individuals, businesses and organizations that have a desire for developing a sustainable project in a wonderful, historical building.
When a process is open to the public, our city will be in a stronger position to obtain proposals that will benefit the Barre community. Let’s do this right.
Sue Higby, of Barre City, is executive director of SPA.