The town of Milton has signed a 20-year lease with the Milton Grange for its Route 7 building in a move town manager Don Turner hopes will create more rentable event space in town.
The selectboard officially signed the lease last month, and the town started its tenancy July 1. It will pay the Milton Grange $1 a year for 20 years with the option to extend for two five-year periods, the lease says.
The agreement offers the town the exclusive offer to purchase the building at 135 River St. after the lease expires.
Members of the Milton Grange, the local leg of the national fraternal organization that promotes agriculture, approached Turner last year about the possible arrangement.
Grange member Jim Ballard said the organization has struggled to maintain the 1940s-era building and to draw new members. The group’s charter requires 15 members to keep an active chapter. Failing that, the Vermont Grange could close the Milton chapter and sell the building, keeping the proceeds.
As long as the Grange keeps membership up, the lease will ensure the centrally-located building is used as a community space, Ballard said. This was important to the Grange because Milton voters have approved exempting the property from taxes for many years, he said.
“We kind of wanted to … keep it in local use and keep the Grange going in some way shape or form,” he said. “The town gave us all those years tax exemption … And I realized that was due to [our] community service.”
The lease requires the town to pay for all property maintenance and utilities. If the town purchases the property in the end, these costs will be deducted from the most recent appraised value, it says. If the town passes, it will be reimbursed when the building does sell, Turner said.
He recognized the Grange could indeed benefit from some TLC.
“You could go into that building and spend a lot of money rehabbing it,” he said. “I want to get where it’s not costing the taxpayers any money.”
Turner said he’ll accomplish this by directing a committee to draft a fee schedule for the Grange, providing a revenue stream to offset annual operating costs. He’s estimated revenue at $5,700 in fiscal year 2019 but could be more if the spot becomes popular, and Turner thinks it will.
Turner said the town has more resources than the Grange to advertise the space for rentals and said staff field calls daily from townspeople looking to host events. Municipal building rooms are often booked, he said.
Turner envisions private parties, dance recitals and more there. His own family has rented the Grange in years past for its annual New Year’s Eve celebration.
And he’s exploring other ideas, too, like offering nonprofits a space to sublet. He’s already spoken to the Milton Family Community Center about relocating the food shelf there.
The one pre-existing tenant, the Randy’s Lunch Box food truck, won’t operate this year and is for sale, but Turner wonders if Milton could start its own food truck stop in the parking lot. In the meantime, Age Well has moved its Meals on Wheels pickup location there, albeit for free.
The Milton Grange has reserved six three-hour meetings per year, which are given priority as long as the times and dates are submitted in advance, the lease says.
Before signing on, the town arranged both fire safety and environmental inspections, which came out clean. The lease also allows the town to terminate with 30 days written notice.
“This is a very good lease to the town and the taxpayers,” Turner said. “We were not putting taxpayers at risk for any substantial costs.”
As a realtor, Turner thinks the town could benefit from exercising its option to purchase at the lease’s end.
“For me it’s location, location, location,” he said. “It’s a pretty large facility … so I think there’s a lot more pros than there are risks or cons.”
Ballard was pleased the arrangement went through.
“We hated to see the building torn down,” he said. “We have very few places really in town …where people can use for community activities. It’s tight. So we hated to see that become something other than the community place.”