• Stephen Mills, Times Argus

Beverage store sale triggers major city projects


MONTPELIER — The clock is ticking on several major Capital City projects that will begin this summer after decades of deal-making, but it will also mean the loss of the city's pre-eminent convenience store. Development projects include: the Taylor Street transit center and housing complex and companion recreation path connecting Taylor and Main streets; replacement of the Taylor Street rail crossing and street utility work; completion of a 1.93-mile section of the recreation path from 55 Barre St. to Gallison Hill that will connect with the section between Taylor and Main streets; and the Caledonia Spirits distillery project on Barre Street. Setting many of the projects in motion was Tuesday's final signing of the sale and purchase agreement for the Montpelier Discount Beverage & Redemption Center on Main Street.

The business is expected to close May 30 and vacate the premises by June 15. The city plans to demolish the building and the nearby former Vermont Association for the Blind building to make way for the Taylor-to-Main streets recreation path. Beverage business manager Mary Shepard said she was not aware of efforts by the city to relocate the business, despite an agreement to do so.

Shepard said eight employees — including herself — would be out of work when the business closes. "We are closing the bottle room as of May 26 and the final day of opening will be May 30," Shepard said. "We're already working on our vendors getting the coolers out (by June 10). "As far as we know, we're just done. It's really a shame that a lot of people have no way to return their bottles because they can't walk to Barre," Shepard added.

City Manager Bill Fraser said Shepard was not involved with discussions with the city. Instead, the city dealt with building owner Mowatt Trust through trustee Jay White, who in turn dealt with beverage business owner Farogh Wien, a co-signer to the agreement. Shepard said the Mowatt Trust is unlikely to build on the adjacent parking lot because funding for the project had "fallen through," Shepard said, adding, "They needed like $2 million to put a building there." Fraser said the city made several efforts to find an alternative location for the business.

Under the agreement, Fraser said that Wien chose a "straight payout" instead of relocation assistance funding. "They are being compensated $190,000 for the business closing with time remaining on their lease," Fraser said. "The Mowatt Trust opted against exercising their option to acquire a newly created adjacent lot and pursue the permitted building project. The closing yesterday was a straight sale of the Mowatt property to the city for the appraised value of $360,000," Fraser added.

The closure of the beverage business triggers the start of other projects that have been on hold for years, pending acquisition of the building and property by the city of Montpelier. News of the sale and purchase agreement came in a release from the city Wednesday. Fraser also announced the city had received the final permit needed to begin work on the recreation path from Barre Street to Gallison Hill Road that will link to the Taylor Street project.

"When all new pieces of the recreational path are completed, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to safely travel from Junction Road to Gallison Hill Road," Fraser said. “After several years of hard work, these have been two of the most critical pieces needed to ensure these projects move forward.”

Fraser noted another important factor for the Taylor Street project: Full state and federal funding for the housing portion of the project was secured in April. “We still have details to work out, but these pieces were the really heavy lifts,” Fraser said. Public Works Director Tom McArdle said Wednesday that work on the Taylor Street project is expected to begin mid-June. The project is awaiting the transfer of state and federal funds and a right-of-way railroad agreement, which are expected soon. In the meantime, work on rebuilding the Taylor Street rail crossing is expected to start May 21 and continue through the week.

There will also be water and sewer line work and electrical conduit work for streetlights to be installed next year, after completion of the transit center project. Work will halt over Memorial Day weekend if not complete by then, with additional work on May 29 and 30, McArdle said. McArdle said work on the two sections of recreation path between Main and Taylor streets and Barre Street and Gallison Hill will begin this summer. Work on the Caledonia Spirits distillery on Barre Street is expected to begin mid-July, Fraser said.

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