WRJ Facility Seeks Grant For Workers  

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2018 11:46:37 PM
Modified: 8/20/2018 11:47:32 PM

White River Junction — The $27 million assisted-living facility that hopes to open its doors in downtown next month is asking a state business development program for a $1 million loan to help support its workforce.

Because at least 51 percent of the jobs that The Village at White River Junction is expected to create will pay low- to moderate-income wages, it is eligible for the taxpayer funds through the state Vermont Community Development Program, or VCDP, which exists to promote job opportunities in that sector.

“These are servers, line cooks, housekeeping staff,” said Sandy Conrad, executive director of The Village, which could receive a certificate of occupancy as early as Sept. 8. “Two of my directors meet the qualifications of low- to moderate-income levels.”

Conrad said the money would help the company bridge the gap between its opening and the time it fills its 89 beds, which it anticipates doing within 18 months.

The non-director staff is expected to earn between $14 and $29 an hour, with an average of $16.91, according to materials The Village will present to the Selectboard.

Last year, The Village said that it anticipated employing 50 people, including 35 at full time, but Conrad said the number has been revised upward based on anticipated resident needs, so the company now is projecting a 65-member workforce.

The assisted living facility, which will be managed by Life Care Services, a national health care provider, was built with a construction loan from Community National Bank. It broke ground in April 2017, and the construction activity has contributed to a development boom in White River Junction.

The business model is built on the idea of luxury senior housing, with apartments beginning at $8,400 a month, and amenities including a rooftop dog park, an in-building theater, an artist-in-residence and a tavern.

Under the program guidelines, the town of Hartford would first apply for a $1 million grant from the state. If that is approved, the town would then loan up to $1 million to The Village, at an interest rate and repayment term that would be negotiated between the two entities.

Conrad said she was unsure of how much of the $1 million The Village would actually use, but that she envisioned a payback period of no more than five years, and likely less.

The Selectboard is scheduled to hear a presentation from Conrad and developer Byron Hathorn on the idea on Wednesday night, in advance of a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 28.

If the public hearing moves forward, the Selectboard likely would vote on whether to apply for the funds during that same Aug. 28 meeting, in order to meet a VCDP application deadline of Sept. 4.

Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis said on Monday that he’s maintaining a neutral stance, in part because he doesn’t want to muddy his role as an objective facilitator during the Selectboard’s discussions.

However, Dennis also said he had heard no major objection to the deal.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “Obviously, it is consistent with the general strategy of the sitting Selectboard to be supportive of downtown development for purpose of growing the grand list in a way that will hopefully alleviate the tax pressure on residents.”

Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar said he had not received any phone calls from the public expressing an opinion on the choice before the Selectboard.

Conrad said that if The Village did not receive the loan, the size of the workforce would be unlikely to change.

“I don’t think it’s going to make it greater or less,” she said.

She characterized it as a backup.

“I look at it as an insurance loan,” she said. “If we need it, we can use it, and if we don’t, we won’t.”

But Hartford Planning Director Lori Hirshfield said her understanding after discussions with The Village is that a bridge loan was needed to fully staff the facility within the first 18 months.

“Because of unanticipated expenditures for the project, that’s what led to their request for this,” she said. “In order to ensure that we have this business here, this helps to cover their cash flow as they ramp up. It’s working capital.”

Conrad said The Village currently has roughly 10 people who have provided $1,500 refundable deposits in order to secure their position on a wait list, and she has another 130 leads of people who have expressed an interest in moving in when it opens.

Since the 1980s, the town has supported for-profit businesses with loans from the Hartford Business Revolving Loan Fund, but Pullar said that fund has only about $80,000 in its coffers, so a $1 million loan would be a much larger amount than the town is accustomed to providing.

“This kind of job creation is something that we haven’t done in a long time,” Hirshfield said.

In addition to supporting the jobs, there is another incentive for the town — half of the money that is borrowed and repaid would go into the town’s revolving loan fund, and could then be used to support other businesses.

“The influx of that amount could be big for the program,” Pullar said, though, he added “we still need folks to want to borrow those funds, (and) that has been a challenge.”

The VCDP is funded through the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com.

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