Fresh Outlooks for Pair of Key White River Junction Buildings
In White River, Matt Bucy works on the heating system of the former American Legion building, which he bought this month with plans to renovate. “I’ll probably spend some time here and see what the building tells me what it wants to do” said Bucy. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Tupelo Music Hall staff and members Bow Thayer & Perfect Trainwreck set up the stage before a concert. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Matt Bucy, owner of the Tip Top Media Arts Building, sits in the ballroom of the former American Legion building in White River Junction.(Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
A new bar is one of the most visible changes at the Tupelo Music Hall, which is looking to expand its hours and customer base after nearly closing earlier this year. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — A pair of South Main Street buildings will soon be getting two very different kinds of improvements.
While the people behind the recently reopened Tupelo Music Hall are expanding the venue’s hours to become a more full-fledged function hall, a new owner has purchased the American Legion Hall, which was recently made vacant.
Earlier this month Matt Bucy, who owns the Tip Top Media and Arts Building, purchased the former Hartford Post 26, which had its final meeting in the space just a few weeks ago.
Bucy hasn’t decided what he wants to do with the vacant building. He’s heard from people who plan a residential use for the space, but he won’t be prepared to make a decision on what to do for another several months, he said.
“The sky’s the limit,” Bucy said. “I don’t know. Just going to play it by ear and see what happens.”
David Briggs, owner of the Hotel Coolidge and chairman of the board of directors of the Hartford Development Corporation, said Bucy was being modest.
“Even though Matt would say that he doesn’t really have quite a plan for it, you can bet that he has some ideas that are valid and imaginative,” Briggs said.
Bucy’s track record includes the Tip Top building, a former bakery that Bucy bought in 2000, and the nearby Dreamland Building, a former movie theater now used for commercial and retail space.
Bucy declined to say how much he paid for the Legion building . As of late last month, the building was listed for $875,000 with the White River Junction-based real estate agency Moseley and Associates. According to a Hartford assessing database, the 22,400-square-foot building was most recently assessed at $897,400.
Ken Parker, the chairman of Hartford’s Selectboard, said Bucy’s purchase of the building was advantageous to the town for two reasons. First, the property will once again become a taxable entity, helping out the town’s tax base. (The American Legion is a nonprofit, and the building was long exempt from town property taxes.)
And second, perhaps more important, he said, is that Bucy was the one who bought it.
“He has been very effective in being a one-man stimulant for being a revitalizing force downtown,” Parker said.
In Tupelo’s case, though, it’s not a matter of spending money — it’s a matter of making it.
The 4,000-square-foot downtown venue, opened in the Freight House on South Main Street in October 2010, filed a request with the town of Hartford to increase the types of events offered to the public during the day as well as stretch its hours of operation one hour longer on weekends to 1 a.m. Last Monday , the Planning Commission passed the application permit; on Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment did the same. Zoning Administrator Jo-Ann Ells said she now has the power to award the permit to Tupelo when it formally applies.
Landlord Mike Davidson of Execusuite LLC, which owns several buildings in Hartford including a pair that abut Tupelo, said the purposes of the expansion are twofold. On one hand, he said, he and Scott Hayward, who runs Tupelo venues in both White River Junction and Londonderry, N.H., want the raise the hall’s profile in the Upper Valley.
“Tupelo had a very loyal following and a more narrow demographic,” Davidson said . “This room needs to have everything from children’s shows to soccer banquets to weddings.”
More events would lead to more cash flow, something the space needs. Tupelo closed its doors briefly in August because of insufficient ticket sales. It reopened about a month later as a joint venture between Davidson and Hayward.
No changes will be made to Tupelo in terms of interior or exterior construction or parking; the permit amendment strictly deals with what sorts of events the hall is allowed to hold.
The application suggested “business meetings, weddings, televised sporting/entertainment events, parties, banquets, functions and other music/entertainment events” as possible uses for the space. Expanded open hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and until 1 a.m. on weekends. Davidson is also planning under-21 events geared toward teens.
The later closing time is mainly meant for “dance nights,” he said, something he plans to hold on Saturdays. Much of the demographic Tupelo plans to court wouldn’t be going out until about 10 p.m. anyway, Davidson said, so a 1 a.m. closing time gives a solid, three-hour block for dancing.
“We need a 22-year-old to say, ‘Hey, there’s a good place to go have a good time,’ ” he said.
There has been one complaint directed toward Tupelo so far, Ells said. A resident who lives on Latham Works Lane, past the train tracks at the building’s rear, has brought up concerns about the low bass frequencies at night.
The application notes that changes to Tupelo’s sound system have been made. It mentions that the sound system is “steerable,” which ultimately can lead to a clear, high-quality sound at lower volumes.
“We want to be sensitive to that,” Davidson said.
Briggs said the concurrent actions of both Bucy and Tupelo reflect positively on the village, town and Upper Valley as a whole.
“From the Wilder Center to the Hotel Coolidge to the Legion property to Tupelo, we’re all about events,” he said. “We’re all about human activity.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.