Boarded up and empty for two years, but now the Brooks House is coming back. "It's been a long year but we are really happy to be where we are," said Bob Stevens, one of a group of five local developers that secured leases for 75 percent of what will soon be the new Brooks House.
The space will include restaurants and offices, 23 apartments and satellite locations for the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College. "Without the support of the Governor, without the support of the town, our local development corporations -- chambers -- we never would have pulled this off," Stevens said.
The Brooks house caught fire in April 2011. About a year ago the owners stopped redevelopment plans. The burned out historic building has been a blight on the town. "Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the Brooks house, we can't wait," said Jerry Goldberg with the Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce.
Goldberg will be a resident of the new Brooks House, leasing an apartment once it's finished. "We've known people that had an impression that Brattleboro is a dying town -- and Brattleboro is anything but a dying town," he said.
"I can tell you that when you have a whole block that is dark at night and there aren't a lot of feet on the street, it makes downtown look sad," said Donna Simons, who has owned a furniture store on Main Street for about 40 years.
Simons added that it has also added a financial burden for downtown businesses. "Bringing all of our property values down, diminishing our town's grand list, therefore burdening all of us with having to pay more taxes," she said.
At the record store down the street, owner Byron Greatorex was concerned that the boarded up building was leading to a bad crowd and possible criminal activity. "You notice an immediate change with the dynamics of the downtown. Not just because there are empty store fronts or a derelict building, but who and what is hanging out in front of them," he said.
But in a year's time businesses, residents and a new crop of college kids will be coming and going -- contributing to the local economy. A $23 million project made possible -- in part -- from new market and historic tax credits.
"Having I don't know how many college kids spilling out for lunch on the downtown will be a big boon for the eateries especially, but for every place that has to hire an employee," Greatorexs said.
"I don't think that when the fire happened any of us could have imagined that it was going to be reinvented in this way," Donna Simons said.
The group plans to close on the sale at the end of April and construction will begin immediately. By May 2014, the building is expected to be back to life and better than ever before.