Byfield space filled up fast
The Town of Bristol has no clear vision for the future of the old Byfield School building on High Street.
While town officials initially thought of the building as a business incubator, its current tenants have their own idea: To utilize the space as an arts collaborative, fostering arts in the community.
The idea to rent out Byfield's rooms belongs to Parks and Recreation Director Walter Burke. Several years ago, Mr. Burke took up space in the Reynolds building, across from Byfield, to house recreational programs that would eventually move into the community center across town once it opens.
Now, Byfield is completely rented out, to the surprise of Town Administrator Tony Teixeira.
"This has accelerated much more than we expected," he said. "Initially, we thought, yes, we'd get a few people, but people just kept coming and asking if we had the space, and we did at the time."
Those interested in renting space in Byfield were asked to fill out a one-page application, stating who the renter would be and the purpose of use. Based on that information, a committee of Mr. Teixeira, Community Development Director Diane Williamson and building manager Matt Calderiso (recently retired director of the town's water treatment plant) would meet to discuss the application.
"Mr. Calderiso is managing all this for us, because it would be too much for me or Diane to go in and see how's the building, how are things doing," said Mr. Teixeira.
Once the application is approved, the tenant and the town strike a deal on the monthly rental amount. There is no set standard for determining the rental amount, Mr. Teixeira said. One organization pays $100 per month, another pays $400, others pay $300 or $2,000. Rents includes the cost of utilities. With 10 tenants, the property is bringing in $4,850 per month.
Lease terms are for six months, something Dawn Oliveira hopes will be extended. Ms. Oliveira owns Oliveira Textiles, a fabric design company, which operates out of a first-floor room in Byfield.
"Once you plant yourself somewhere as a designer or an artist, you want to be there for awhile," she said. "No one wants to leave in six months.
"Maybe calling it a business incubator isn't the right thing to do."
A review of the leases in the building also shows a lack of consistency in managing the facility.
While Ms. Oliveira received verbal approval from Mr. Burke to sub-lease her space with another designer, nothing was submitted in writing officially granting that permission, which the lease requires.
Charles Tate, owner of Sagamore Group, has signed several leases since moving into Byfield two years ago. In his initial agreement, signed Sept. 15, 2011, he rented three rooms for $1,500 per month. However, the most recent lease, signed Oct. 15, requires him to pay $2,000 a month, without listing the correct number of rooms he's renting, which is four.
The non-profit organization 4-H is also renting out space in Byfield, yet there's no lease to support that.
"We need to take a look at this whole thing, and see how are we doing here," said Mr. Teixeira.
The town's intent was never to offer subsidized rents for long-term use, he said.
"I know that the word incubator has been used, and in some way, it is somewhat of that," he said. "It gives someone an opportunity who worked out of their house, to have a larger space … have the opportunity to develop further and eventually get into some other buildings we have."
Of the nine leased tenants, eight of them are arts-based. Many of them have reached out into the community, offering themselves as educational resources.
"My motivation for coming into the building was that it was going to be an arts center," said Ms. Oliveira. "I don't want to be asked to leave if I'm investing my time, energy and resources here." She expressed concern over the length of her lease, and whether or not she would be required to leave if her business grew too large.
"We need to take a step back and assess the whole situation," Mr. Teixeira said. "We need to really take a look at the entire operation, and the use of the entire building."