Rebuilding the Brooks House

Seven months after a fire destroyed much of the building, plans are moving forward to rebuild the historic Brooks House in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont. A feasibility study and conceptual design has been completed, and owner Jonathan Chase is currently exploring funding options for the project. He hopes construction can begin in 2012.The design and construction of a project of this size is a complex process, requiring architectural and engineering services and funding from multiple sources. Chase sees the fire as an opportunity to reimagine the building and its uses. “We have the opportunity to do this right and make the building everything it can be,” he said.

One of the goals of the design team is to restore historic elements of the Brooks House, including the storefront facades and a two-story porch on Main Street. The building’s ballroom, from its days as a hotel, would remain a large, open space in the conceptual design, and would be used as a coworking space for local entrepreneurs.

The conceptual design for the Brooks House also includes market-rate and high-end residential units, office space, and retail space. An addition to the first floor would improve circulation among the retail spaces, providing an indoor mall area. It would also provide indoor seating for a restaurant; outdoor seating would also be provided behind the building.

Stevens & Associates’ conceptual design also features a pedestrian mall behind the building in the Harmony parking lot. A portion of the land on which the parking lot sits belongs to Chase, as does the tunnel entrance to the lot from High Street under the Brooks House. The preliminary plan for the lot includes closing the tunnel to vehicular traffic, extending landscaping between the Brooks House and the one-story building on the other side of the parking lot (formerly a pizzeria), and providing outdoor seating for town residents and the restaurant located in the Brooks House.

“The Harmony Marketplace, as we’re calling it, would provide more green space for downtown,” said Bob Stevens of Stevens & Associates. “It would also provide a pedestrian-friendly area that would support the businesses around Harmony Lot and would give Brooks House residents an important amenity.”

Chase is working with Tom Appel of New England Management Company to develop funding sources for the project. As a historic building, the Brooks House is eligible for restoration tax credits on both federal and state levels. It is also eligible for the New Market Tax Credit program, which supports investment in downtowns.

Pulling together funding sources can take some time, says Chase. “This is a complex process,” he said. “There are a lot of elements to consider.” However, he hopes that a final design can be developed over the winter and construction can begin in the spring.

The conceptual design includes:

Approximately 80,000 square feet of space
41 apartments, including studios and one-bedrooms
7 high-end apartments with loft space in the penthouse
Artist apartments with studio space
Office space, including a coworking space in the former ballroom
9 retail spaces with an indoor mall area
2 restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating
1 separate restaurant/retail (formerly the pizzeria)
A fully rehabilitated bar downstairs (formerly the Mole’s Eye)
A pedestrian mall area in the Harmony Parking Lot
A new lobby that restores the historic lobby entrance on Main Street
Handicapped accessibility throughout the building
A two-story porch on Main Street; rehabilitation of storefronts, multiple private decks for residential units
Green building features, including solar hot water, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and LEED certification as a goal