MONTPELIER — Almost 20 years after it was first envisioned, the Taylor Street Transit Center project is expected to get the green light with the signing of the last land acquisition agreement needed for work to begin.
News of a draft purchase-and-sale agreement came from City Manager Bill Fraser, who said officials hope to sign the agreement this week after five years of negotiations to acquire and demolish the Montpelier Beverage Center on Main Street.
Acquisition of the site from the Mowatt Trust would allow for the construction of a road and bike path linking Taylor Street with Main Street. The agreement was the final piece of the project needed to commence construction of a transit center on the former Carr Lott on Taylor Street, with 30 units of market-rate and affordable housing above funded by Downstreet Housing and Development Inc. of Barre.
Work on the $12.5 million project by DEW Construction Inc. of Williston is expected to begin in the spring and take a year to complete. The transit center has long been considered a flagship project that would signal “Montpelier is open for business,” in the words of Councilor Jean Olsen, to encourage new commercial and residential development in the city.
Fraser said the length of time needed to reach a draft agreement with Mowatt Trust was due to the complex negotiations involved in the last of eight separate land acquisition or easement agreements the project has entailed.
“It’s a complicated transaction because it has an existing business on it and we’re buying and selling a property to make room for development of a new building, so it wasn’t just a straightforward, ‘We’re going to buy this piece of land from you,’” Fraser said.
Fraser explained the agreement called for the demolition of the existing Montpelier Beverage building, and the construction of a new three-story structure on the parking lot adjacent to it. Hesaid it was unclear if Montpelier Beverage would occupy the ground floor of the new building or relocate.
The upper floors of the new building are expected to be used as offices, Fraser added.
Under the draft agreement, Fraser said the city would buy the Montpelier Beverage building and lot for $360,000, its appraised value. The Mowatt Trust will pay $380,000 for the adjacent parking lot, also the appraised value of the site, where it will erect a new building.
Fraser said funding for the Montpelier Beverage site would come from the state and federal funds awarded to the Taylor Street project while the city would bear the cost of relocating Montpelier Beverage, which is currently a tenant of the Mowatt Trust.
Fraser said work on the transit center was supposed to start in December to meet a deadline set by the Federal Transit Authority, but the authority said the city could wait until the spring.
“We were going to put some waterlines into the site before we closed up for the winter but they said, ‘Don’t bother, it doesn’t make any sense to mobilize a crew to put some waterlines in and then pack the crew up,’ so I think all construction will begin in the spring,” Fraser said.
Fraser was optimistic about reaching the draft agreement with Mowatt Trust and signing a final agreement, but remained cautious.
“It’s good news where we’re at but it’s not the final news so I’m a little reluctant to get into definitive statements here because it ain’t over till it’s over,” Fraser added.
Mayor John Hollar — a strong supporter of the project — could not be reached for comment.
Councilor Anne Watson said she was encouraged by the news the city is one step closer to getting started on the transit center project.
“While we will still have to go through a final closing with Mowatt Trust in coming months, this agreement is a significant step toward a development project that will significantly improve the quality of life in Montpelier,” Watson said.