Garage Building doors ready to open

Elizabeth Bridgewater and Jeff Kantor cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Bellows Falls Garage housing complex. Photo by Joe Milliken

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – After a recent ribbon cutting and open house event, the new $10.75 million Garage Building project in downtown Bellows Falls is ready to open its doors for new tenants on June 1.

Purchased in 2020 by the Brattleboro-based Windham and Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT), the affordable housing project was launched after multiple offers were made to the owner of the building, sign maker Frank Hawkins, before he finally agreed to part with the decaying building. Generally known locally as the Garage Building (the words engraved on the building’s façade), the structure has seen many looks over the years, including a machine shop, a car dealership and auto garage, and a woodshop, before Hawkins had his sign-making business in the space.

The original building plan called for an “innovative renovation” of the 100-plus-year-old historic concrete building, but when the overall costs proved to be much greater than originally anticipated, the plans had to be altered. Various obstacles along the way included the much higher costs of a brownfield site cleanup, and the eventual demolition of a building literally inches away from neighboring businesses.

“There are so many people involved in developing a project like this – such as development team members, funders, community members, and business owners, to name a few,” WWHT Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater said in a recent interview. “Some have a significant role, and others have a small role, but it’s just so inspiring to see how everyone did their part with both commitment and creativity.”

The new Garage Building houses 27 affordable housing apartments; 18 one-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom apartments, and five studio apartments. Rent ranges from $400-$1,088 per month, with utilities included. Several of the apartments will be permanently designated for people who are homeless, and all tenants must pass financial and criminal background checks.

Stewart Property Management (SPM), who already manages the Howard and Exner Blocks in downtown Bellows Falls, is handling the apartment applications. The SPM On-Site Occupancy Manager, Kathy Relihan, recently stated that the overall response from applicants has been very positive. Along with the residencies, there is also one commercial, street-front space available for lease at the new complex.

The ribbon cutting and open house celebration took place on April 24, and the guests and visitors were dazzled by the incredible views from these apartments, which includes the scenic Connecticut River and New Hampshire’s Fall Mountain landscape.

“The Village of Bellows Falls has always had a special place in my heart, and I think it’s one of the prettiest villages in the state…I love the entrepreneurial and artistic spirit in the village,” Bridgewater said. “I owned a house here 20 years ago and remember hearing about the work Robert McBride was doing with the Exner Block, and I remember thinking ‘I want to do that kind of work someday.’”

“So, it has been a wonderful turn of events for me to end up working at WWHT and having the opportunity to help improve the Bellows Falls Village. The results of everyone’s hard work is going to make a big difference for the new residents who make the Garage Building their home.”


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