Editorial: The public landlord

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Before it launches into any venture outside the scope of traditional municipal services (like fire protection, public safety or trash hauling), the Town of Bristol should seriously consider whether the project belongs in private hands.
Such might be the case at Byfield, Reynolds and any other empty school buildings, as town leaders consider what to do with them.
Lacking a plan or a real project leader, the town allowed the director of parks and recreation to become a commercial landlord, recruiting tenants and signing leases for the formerly empty Byfield School building. Taxpayers can be thankful that the property is now generating nearly $5,000 per month in rentals, but the town’s handling deserves scrutiny.
Rental prices are inconsistent unit to unit, and they are consistently below rents in the private commercial market. Lease terms have not been properly spelled out or enforced. Those with six-month rentals don’t know what comes next.
This casts no aspersions on the tenants who have flocked to fill the building in a matter of months. These are hardworking folks building businesses, creating art and contributing to our local economy.
However, the town’s handling is suspect. Available spaces were not widely advertised, rents were not calibrated to the private market, and there is no vision for what this space will become, or for how long.
The right approach now would be to step back, craft a long-term strategy for this property that includes input from both the public and private sector (including current tenants), and consider placing building management in the hands of an outside agency. The town is superior at protecting homes, policing streets and creating recreational gems, but it has no experience as a commercial landlord.

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