Home News and Features City Negotiates Elks Club Lease with The HUB

City Negotiates Elks Club Lease with The HUB

Artists rendering of top view of recreation building with gray roof and pool.
A preliminary architect drawing shows the clubhouse and tennis facility proposed for the city’s Elks Club property. Illustration by Black River Design.
The former Montpelier Elks Club may soon have virtual sports, yard games, and fare from Three Penny Taproom if all goes well with a lease currently in negotiation. Recently purchased by the city of Montpelier for $3 million, the 133.5-acre property has been slated for recreation and housing in the long-term. For the short-term, the city council authorized city staff to negotiate a three-year lease with The HUB, a local nonprofit that plans to eventually open a “social and recreation center serving central Vermont individuals, families, seniors, school groups, and students of all ages,” according to its website.

The lease should be ready for council review at its Sept. 14 meeting, city manager Bill Fraser noted in his weekly report. As well, a plan for the public process around the longer-term goal of developing housing and city recreation services, plus discussion about hunting on the property, is on the agenda for that same meeting.

Once a lease is in place, The HUB plans to occupy approximately half of the clubhouse, said HUB board member Dan Voisin in a presentation at the August 24 council meeting. 

The council vote was not unanimous. Councilors Jennifer Morton and Carey Brown voted against it, but the motion to lease to The HUB for the short-term passed by a 4–2 vote. 

Concerns about bypassing a more formal public process; what would happen inside the building; combining a bar in the same building as a childcare center; and the need for nothing permanent to happen on the property before a public process happens came up as the council deliberated the proposal brought forth by Voisin and HUB Board Chair Ethan Atkin.

The city has been exploring “nonpermanent” ideas for the space while it develops a public planning process, said outgoing assistant city manager Cameron Niedermayer. Some of the temporary city uses Niedermayer outlined included using fields for youth soccer; adding benches; using one of the golf course hills for winter sledding; using the indoor space for summer camps during inclement weather; and parking city equipment in outbuildings as soon as the prior owners vacate the space.

“I think it’s important to reserve as much space as possible from permanent decisions, or things that are yet to be permanent, as we have yet to go through a planning process,” Niedermayer said, “which is why the recreation and parks departments have really focused on short-term uses that can easily be removed.”

Along with a lease to use half the clubhouse, Voisin requested The HUB have a “little bit higher status” in the planning process, along with language from the council around a mutual “hope and intent” for a longer term lease and eventual HUB use of three to five acres of outdoor space. Councilors rejected the latter two requests, but after hearing from enthusiastic community members and considering the need for revenue, they ultimately agreed on a short-term lease with no promises after it expires.

Former Montpelier Housing Task Force member Peter Kelman reminded the council of its commitment to add housing to the property along with recreation. He spoke not only to the practical benefits of revenue from a lease, but the potential attraction that a robust recreation facility may hold for developers.

“… We’re going to need all the private and public investment we can to attract development of housing and recreation on the property,” Kelman said. “We know from years of barriers to housing there’s got to be incentives for developers to come here when they can make more money building in Burlington.”

But councilors Morton and Brown both had reservations.

“I am not feeling comfortable that this would not get in the way of the public planning process,” Brown said. The public perception would be that the city has entered into a long-term agreement with The HUB. And I know that is not the case, but I think that would be the public perception, and I think we have a lot of work to do before we are ready to make that long-term commitment.”

Morton said she did not have enough information about The HUB to make a decision, despite having attended several presentations and reviewing its website. As well, Morton said: “Housing is a bigger pressing issue in Montpelier than recreation. We live in a beautiful state. There are plenty of places to go … for free. I feel rushed into something … I’m not with it yet.”

The HUB board met later that week to discuss the potential lease, Atkin said in a follow-up interview. The HUB board “felt [the short-term lease without a long-term commitment] was worth taking the risk,” he said. 

“[The HUB is interested in] the idea of collaborating with the city, so we can share some facilities, like a shared reception area, building maintenance, and other things of benefit to both parties. This way we would be able to have a broader list of offerings than either one of us could do on our own.

“That’s the vision of The Hub. We would make sure we weren’t competing, and that everything was accessible regardless of whether operated by the city or by The HUB.”

The HUB will join three other tenants at the 203 Country Club Road property: Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, Little Lambs Early Care Center, and Andy Emerson, LLC.