Renovations to former Oona's building could take years

Brattleboro Reformer, Vermont/March 31, 2008

Bellows Falls - A downtown eyesore won't receive any substantial upgrades this year, the new owner of the property told the Selectboard recently.

It has been almost 18 months since a late night fire destroyed Oona's Restaurant.

Since the fire the building has changed ownership, but the brick storefront is still boarded up.

The roof has been removed and outdated posters litter the plywood that has been slapped up to cover some of the spaces that used to hold windows.

The restaurant is credited with being an important part of the village's renaissance in the 1990s.

Now the property is creating all of the health and safety dangers of the worst urban blight and the Selectboard asked the owner to come in and explain what the plans were for rehabilitating the building.

"We would like to see something happen, but we don't have the staff right now," said Louis Miner, who said he was representing the Basin Farm, a local community that is a member of the Twelve Tribes religious group.

The Basin Farm bought the brick building from the former owners, Gwen and Jim Powell, after the fire.

The Powells were originally seeking a permit to tear the building down, but sold it to the Twelve Tribes as the permit process was under way.

Miner said the group wants to re-establish the restaurant and rehabilitate the property, but he was evasive when the board members asked him pointed questions about the plans.

"We're concerned," Rockingham Selectboard member Ann DiBernardo said with Miner sitting at the table with the board at its last meeting. "We'd really like to see something happen here. We constantly hear comments and we would like to see something as soon as possible."

Miner agreed that the building is in sore shape.

"We want to get it weather tight," he said. "We want to, at least as soon as possible, make the public appearance not so odious."

But when DiBernardo continued to press Miner for details, and ask that at least windows be installed, Miner again made no promises.

"They are very expensive," he said about installing windows. "Maybe we can do something temporary."

The nearly 100-year-old building also housed a small cafe and hair salon before the Oct. 1 fire.

Rockingham Selectboard member Bob Thompson said having a burnt out building among other small shop owners was not good for anyone.

"It's the first thing we look at," he said. "This is closing in on years."

Miner said he would try to get the area cleaned up a little this spring.

"This could take years," said DiBernardo.

"It will be more than one for sure," said Miner.

DiBernardo asked if the project was too much for the Twelve Tribes.

She said the town and the downtown business alliance wanted to do something to help the project along.

She asked if the group would be willing to sell the building if nothing happens in a few years.

"I feel like we can handle it," he said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.