The Mountain Times

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Killington to consider formal plan from private store owners

KILLINGTON - The Select Board will consider a plan by five private businessmen to turn Bill's Country Store over to the town of Killington within the next two years, so it can become a public welcome center with the advent of federal and state grant funding.
The iconic red barn at the corner of Route 4 east and Route 100 north was purchased by businessmen Chris Karr, Howard Smith, Steve Durkee, Aris Spanos and Phil Black late last year with the intention of creating a welcome center and home for the town's Chamber of Commerce, which is headed up by Karr.

But the partnership, which purchased the store at auction for $355,000, has recently said plans have changed to include handing the store over to the town so they can use grant money to develop it.

Town Manager Seth Webb said Jan. 10 that he intends to present the Select Board with some ideas for the store within the next week, following a recent meeting with Town Planner Dick Horner and two of the businessmen.

In an interview last year, Karr said,"Prime retail is not our intent at all. We will offer services to meet (travelers) needs. There are no public restrooms in town and the only welcome center before Killington is the one in Quechee. We desperately need this and it gives us a great opportunity to be a conduit to direct people up the Killington Road where there is a lot more opportunity for retail of all types."

At a Select Board meeting Jan. 10, Selectman Jim Haff said the owners want to turn over the property within six weeks to two years, to which Karr nodded his head confirming this statement.

The plan for the store coincides with the development of a new streetscape along that stretch of Route 4, some of which the municipality has already acquired grant funding for.

The plan includes landscaping, designated parking, a park and ride in front of Base Camp Outfitters and reduced speed limits from the Sherburne Pass east to Route 100.

According to the town, the streetscape plan is contingent upon state and federal grant funding of more than $2 million and $546,000, or $75,000 a year, in local funding. The intent is to start construction on the first phase of the project in 2014.
Haff asked that the Select Board think of residents and taxpayers when considering the acquisition of the store and asked for the public to vote on the idea this March at Town Meeting Day.

"We should put this up for a vote and let voters decide," Haff said.

Select Board Chairman Chris Bianchi said he supported the store being a mix of public and private ownership.

Selectman Bernie Rome said "the problem with these things (public/private partnerships) is that the public can't be a strong partner."

"If it's our job to make Bill's Country Store what it can be, at worse that's wrong. At best, we need a strong commitment from them to do what they say they are going to do," Rome continued.

Webb confirmed that the town, and taxpayers, would have to use town monies to match grant funding.

Rome replied, "I agree with Jim. I know we represent the people. We can't put them on the hook for money down the road."
Webb said he agreed.

The selectman agreed they wanted to see the plan from the businessmen before moving forward.

Cristina Kumka at cristina_kumka@yahoo.com