Historic T.L. Riley Complex has new ownership, renovation plan

T.L. Riley building in Bellows Falls
T.L. Riley building in Bellows Falls. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The Sustainable Valley Group, a local nonprofit development company dedicated to generating a financially and environmentally sustainable local economy, has taken ownership of the former T. L. Riley mill complex located at 14 Mill St. in the Historic Riverfront Park in Bellows Falls.

In a recent meeting, the Rockingham Selectboard approved the lease of the buildings to this nonprofit group. After securing the lease, the next phase of this reclamation project is for SVG to organize and oversee the brownfield cleanup of the property, with a vision moving forward to make the buildings part of the previously proposed Connecticut River Heritage Center.

“There is an Environmental Protection Agency, brownfield area-wide feasibility study currently being conducted and about to go to RFP [request for proposal],” Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox said. “The study will be completed by summer and will tell us a lot more about the property.”

Brownfield land is any previously developed land that is not currently in use because of confirmed or potentially contaminated land. When contaminated soil is identified, by law it must be restored. The brownfield contamination of the T.R. Riley property was originally discovered after the town had taken ownership of the land more than 20 years ago.

Rockingham has wanted to repurpose the complex since 2003, as part of the town’s master plan involving the aforementioned Connecticut River Heritage Center. The concept is to create and restore historical landmark destinations for tourism and an overall infusion of economic development.

The lease of the Riley complex was previously held by the Bellows Falls Historical Society, which at one point four years ago had begun fundraising for the brownfield cleanup. However, the project was ultimately put on hold because of a greater need to first restore the Adams Grist Mill building, also located in Bellows Falls, which is controlled by the historical society and currently houses their museum collection.

Another concern is the structural stability of the Riley complex, which was discovered during a past architectural and feasibility study, then addressed two years ago when the town applied for – but was not awarded – grant funds to stabilize the two main buildings of the complex.

This new five-year lease gives the SVG “ownership status” of the Riley building property, which will allow the group to apply for cleanup grant money from state and federal agencies. They will also be working with the Windham Regional Commission to work towards securing additional funds for the overall assessment, cleanup, and restoration of the property.

Moving forward, the ultimate goal is to restore the complex as part of the Connecticut River Heritage Center’s historical landmarks and exhibits, in order to display Bellows Falls’ rich history in the paper manufacturing industry.

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