MIDDLEBURY — The local human services agency Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) is trying to recruit some new tenants to generate the necessary rent to help pay off and maintain the organization’s John V. Craven Community Services Center off Boardman Street in Middlebury.
The building has a combined total of 6,785 square feet of rentable space, of which 2,942 square feet is currently vacant, according to HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross. Those vacancies were in large part created by the recent departure of longstanding tenant Addison County Transit Resources — which moved into its own facility off Creek Road at the end of last month — and the closing on June 30 of the Vermont Adult Learning child care center.
HOPE charges a negotiable rental fee of $16 per square foot, which includes electricity, heat, parking, rubbish disposal and use of a communal kitchen and conference room space. It cost HOPE a grand total of $203,282 to operate the building last year, a sum that includes debt services and some reserve funds and a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) of $75 for each of its nonprofit tenants. The organization only rents to nonprofits, which allows the building to remain exempt from property taxes. HOPE officials agreed to pay the town $75 per year for each of its tenants (including itself) per a PILOT agreement with the town of Middlebury.
The organization makes monthly mortgage payments of $168 and $2,876, as well as $1,174 per month through the town of Middlebury for a federal loan that was used to help finance construction of the building more than 14 years ago. HOPE has already paid off related debt to the Vermont Community Loan Fund and the Institute for Community Economics, according to Montross. Leaders of the organization — then known as Addison County Community Action Group — reasoned that having a collection of like-minded human services tenants would not only help retire the building debt, but also provide clients with one-stop shopping for services.
But HOPE now finds itself with a lot of vacant space, space that needs to generate some rental revenue for the organization to pay its bills.
“We are concerned about it,” Montross said. “If we operate the building at a loss, we have to get the money from somewhere else.”
A few local nonprofits have checked out the space, including the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO).
Counseling Service officials decided the space did not fit their programming needs, Montross said.
HOPE officials were hoping the CVOEO — which operates locally as Addison Community Action — might consider moving into the building. The two organizations serve the same constituency and operate their own food shelves. CVOEO and ACCAG were housed under the same roof on Court Street until a rather acrimonious split two decades ago.
By most accounts the two organizations have been working well together in recent years. CVOEO is currently looking for new quarters; its lease for 2,150 square feet in the Carrara office building at 700 Exchange St. expired in February of 2012 and the organization has been staying there on a month-to-month basis since then, according to Bill Townsend, property manager for Carrara.
CVOEO is the lone remaining tenant at 700 Exchange St. The state agencies that had also been renting there at a rate of $16.10 per square foot elected to relocate to a new office building in Middlebury South Village, off Court Street, where they are paying a “full-service” rate of $26.50 per square foot.
“To better position ourselves to attract other professional office tenants, we have decided to undertake a substantial renovation of the whole property, including the current CVOEO space; so in April of this year we notified CVOEO of our intentions and requested that they plan to move out by Oct. 10,” Townsend said in an e-mail response to a recent inquiry about 700 Exchange St. ”While we do not currently have any firm tenants for the new space, in general we have been getting considerably more inquiries about office space in recent months than we have the last few years.”
“We would very much like to partner with CVOEO on the food shelf and to eliminate some redundancies and make it easier for our constituency to access the resources of both organizations,” said HOPE board Chairwoman Becky Dayton.
CVOEO Executive Director Jan Demers said her organization looked at the HOPE space and decided it was not a good fit, citing specifically the rental fee.
“It’s not what we have in our budget,” Demers said. “We’re working to make the best choice.”
HOPE officials said they have an account from which to take funds to bridge building related expenses in the short term, but said that can’t long continue.
“If we don’t have another tenant by the end of the year, it will be very difficult,” Montross said. “I’m concerned, and the board is concerned.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.