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City Increases Rec Center Bond to $2 Million, Targets Land for Housing and New Recreation Center

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Montpelier's City Council approved a $2 million bond proposal to purchase the 138-acre Elks Club property. The bond is up for vote at Town Meeting. Photo by Cassandra Hemenway
At its final budget hearing Jan. 20, Montpelier’s City Council approved a $2 million bond proposal to purchase the 138-acre Elks Club property across Route 2 from Agway. Councilors increased the amount by $500,000, up from an earlier $1.5 million proposal. The project, meant to site a new recreation center to replace the aging center on Barre Street, now includes mention of housing as well, said City Manager Bill Fraser. 

The $2 million property bond joins three other bonds totaling over $27 million on the ballot at Town Meeting Day, March 1.

Details of what the city might include in a recreation center, how much a second bond to build the center would cost, or what maintenance costs might be are unknown and will be worked out later if the purchase is successful, Fraser said. However, the plan will likely involve a public/private partnership with a nonprofit group called The Hub, he said. That group has been working for 18 months to create a recreational and social center to include indoor and outdoor tennis and pickleball courts, virtual golf, Nordic skiing, a restaurant, and more.

Fraser said the city is in the process of negotiating with Steve Ribolini, a member of and registered agent for the limited liability company (LLC) that owns the property.  Fraser expects to have a purchase and sale agreement, subject to a bond vote, in place before voters cast ballots on March 1. City assessments value the property at $1.55 million, although assessments in Montpelier are, on average, currently set at only 81% of fair market value, according to the state tax department.

Citi Properties, LLC, purchased the property, which includes a building and a nine-hole golf course, from the Elks Club about five years ago. The golf course opened last summer, but the owners have reportedly decided to close it. The size of the property provides many options for the city, Fraser said, acknowledging the location is “unfortunately, more auto-centric than the existing rec building, though the bike path does go near there.”

The Hub first approached Citi Properties about leasing the Elks Club building and land for a tennis and pickleball facility. When city officials learned about the plan, they made more sense for a new center than the current Elm Street property, because it has ample room for fields, trails and parking. They decided the city should try to buy the entire Elks Club parcel, then work on a cooperative plan with The Hub, according to Fraser and Hub Board President Ethan Atkin.

Under this scheme, The Hub would lease the existing building and land from the city, while the city would build a new recreation building nearby. But Atkin stressed that The Hub will go forward whether the city follows through with the purchase or not. Find more details about The Hub at thehubvt.org.

If voters approved the land purchase, Fraser said, the city will begin planning for a new recreation center with a public process. He also said planning will reference a survey the city conducted three years ago. The survey found only 22% of the 500 respondents reported they or members of their household used the existing recreation center. Three times that number said they would use a new one weekly or more often if it had facilities such as a gym, multipurpose rooms, weight and cardio equipment, and a pool.

However, a recreation center with a pool would be very expensive, and the survey showed that only 25% of respondents said they would be willing to pay $200 to $350 more each year in additional property taxes for a new recreation facility. 

Mayor Anne Watson commented in 2019: “The amount of money that people were asked about was not even half of what it would cost to build and operate a pool … it’s probably outside the will of the people to take on.”

Fraser said he does not have information about what kind of housing may go on the property at this time. But he noted if the city sold some of the land to developers, the city would recoup some of the purchase price and would have leverage over the type of housing built. See more information about the city budget here.