The Agricultural Center Project.
In 1993, the Trust became aware that a two-story building at 29 West St. was being sold, as its tenants were moving elsewhere. The building housed multiple State and Federal agencies all dealing with agriculture. The U.S. Soil and Conservation Service, the Farmers Home Administration, the Connecticut Agricultural Extension Service, the Northwest Conservation District and related agencies had determined that the building no longer met their needs and, therefore, were all moving to various new locations. The building was then known as the Litchfield Agricultural Center. The Trust became aware that the property was on the market for sale.
Directors of the Trust went through the building several times and reviewed the title to the property. The building had been constructed of brick in 1889 after a fire in 1888 had destroyed the West Street commercial block. While difficult to imagine new uses because of the multiple small office spaces into which the building had been divided, it was evident that the building occupied a key place in the commercial block in the center of town. In addition, the property consisted of ownership of one half of the right-of-way to the rear municipal parking lot and also, in fact, the property had title to one half of that municipal lot. Having recognized the importance of the access way and municipal parking lot in its prior development of the post office on South Street, the Trust recognized the importance of this critically located building.
Using a combination of a generous low-interest loan from Mrs. Seherr-Thoss, its funds generated from the operation of the Post Office and short-term seller financing, the Trust acquired the property from the owner on March 31, 1994. It then listed the property for rental with a local real estate agency. That agency brought the ladies retailer, Talbots, to the attention of the Board. An agreement to lease was negotiated with Talbots. To make the project viable, the Trust wanted to have a certified historic restoration so that a Federal Investment Tax Credit could be obtained..
The Trust needed to obtain the approval of the State Historic Commission to any façade changes required by the tenant in order to obtain the Federal Investment Tax Credit. The Trust was advised by its architectural consultant, David Ransom, that restoring the 1888 façade with large plate glass windows to complement the surrounding buildings would receive State Historic Commission approval. Talbots initially designed its store with large plate glass windows. The Trust brought the plans to the Litchfield Historic District Commission, which approved the façade alteration from the existing white columns and small pane windows to large plate glass windows The Trust’s architectural consultant supported this change.
The State Historic Commission would not certify the project with the period 1888 large plate glass windows. It determined that the existing white columns and fenestration should be maintained, since that façade was part of a colonial revival architectural era in Litchfield that took place in the 1930s. This necessitated going back to Talbots for approval of the colonial revival façade and the Historic District Commission as well. Once those approvals were in hand the matter was certified as a historic preservation project by the Department of Interior in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, affording the project the positive benefit of a Historic Income Tax Credit.
With the Historic Tax Credit in place, the Trust looked for a local investor to assist in the renovation of the entire building. A local investor was quickly found and a Limited Liability Company was formed known as The Litchfield Agricultural Center, LLC. There are two members, the local investor and the Trust. It is also the manager of the LLC. On September 15, 1995, the Trust transferred the building to the LLC. Additional funds needed to complete the restoration of the building were provided by Litchfield Bancorp. The restoration included a total upgrade to current standards, including the installation of the first elevator in Litchfield to serve future second floor tenants. The renovation project was carried out by Burlington Construction of Torrington, Connecticut, on time and on budget. Shortly after the renovation, Talbots moved into the first floor for a ten year lease which had several five-year options. Talbots had totally fitted out the entire first floor in accordance with plans approved by the Trust to meet the retailer’s needs. The store opened in the spring of 1996. Shortly thereafter, the Gallery of Thomas McKnight, a local artist, moved in as a tenant for the entire second floor.
As with the Post Office project, the Trust’s portion of the net proceeds of funds derived from the Agricultural Center go to support the Trust’s ongoing charitable purposes, as set forth in its Certificate of Incorporation.