Restoring the Past While Building the Future
One dominant common theme that links the people who make the Lebanon community so vital and prosperous is a shared love for the history of this beautiful city, combined with looking ahead to building a bright future. Perhaps no other quote covers it better than this: “If we don’t care about our past, we cannot hope for the future.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Chet Clem serves as President of Lyme Properties which acquired the old West Lebanon library and blended its complete restoration with the development of the River Park Project. By completing that task, they honored Lebanon’s past while ensuring controlled future growth. A delicate balancing act in these times of tight regulations. Chet explains how this came about. “Lyme Properties has been committed to the future of downtown West Lebanon since we purchased the former Bailey Brothers property in 2007 and began what would become River Park West Lebanon. When the former West Lebanon Library was advertised for public auction, we saw an opportunity to solve our office needs and further our commitment to West Lebanon, but most importantly to save and re-purpose an important building that had fallen into disrepair.”
The River Park Project will include over 850,000 SF of life science office and research space, service retail, restaurants, single family homes and multi-family housing in a pedestrian friendly environment. Currently the riverside trails are open to the public as a preview of the much anticipated development along the Connecticut River. That represents a promising future, but Chet felt honoring the past had equal importance. “Adaptive re-use of historic buildings has been part of our DNA since my father, David Clem, Chairman of The River Park Project, headed up restoring One Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA. in the 1980s. We have always strived to save, protect and re-purpose the historic structures that make neighborhoods special. Same reason we saved the Westboro Rail Station and moved it to River Park in 2017. We actually tried to save and re-use the former Bailey Brothers building on the site that is now River Park, but couldn’t get permission from the ZBA and had to tear it down. The former Library was an important part of downtown West Lebanon’s history and community, just as the new Kilton Library continues to be a key fixture on Main Street. It needs a new chapter and we felt we were equipped to write it.”
As with all restoration projects, much care and regulations will govern the final outcome to respect all historic values. The old Library was designated a Lebanon Historic Landmark by the Lebanon Historic District Commission. Chet indicated that strict regulations mandated what path they would follow in restoring the beloved building. “We worked with local architects Jay Barrett of White River Junction and Dan Winny of Lebanon who are experienced in historic buildings with adaptive re-use. The resulting plan preserved the exterior and endeavored to save as much of the interior detail and woodwork as possible while bringing systems up to modern standards.”
Chet was careful to point out that not only was the old West Lebanon Library transformation allowing Lyme Properties spacious and elegant office facilities, they were incorporating multi-purpose uses to aid other businesses nearby to enhance that downtown section. “The building has been a great home for us, but we renovated it in a way that would allow for plenty of uses including a retail use on the ground floor. With everything that the West Lebanon Feed & Supply and others have done for downtown, we thought that this location was a key corner for downtown. We had actually tried to convert the Westboro Rail Station into a craft beer bistro, but the local operators ran into permitting problems and moved their operation to Norwich. Maybe someday the ground floor of the old library can become an ice cream shop or another retail business to further revitalize Main Street.”
What kind of impact on the community has Lyme Properties’ efforts at revitalization, combined with extensive plans to establish River Park, delivered? “We’ve been touched by the amount of positive comments this project has received along the way. Whether its residents who grew up reading books at the library, or other downtown businesses who have been working to revitalize downtown, I believe people recognize and appreciate the effort. We’ve given a lot of impromptu tours of the building to interested neighbors, although sadly we don’t get to do that now during the Covid pandemic.”
Moving beyond the restoration projects, Chet and Lyme Properties turn their attention to the River Park development. “We remain cautiously optimistic, if not bureaucratically perplexed! All the studies that have been done over the past 15-20 years have the same findings: a walkable downtown, access to the river and a mix of uses. We like to think the former Library building represents a positive example of what can be done to reinvest in downtown West Lebanon. We’ve added preliminary trails at River Park and are working to connect MRG (Mascoma River Greenway) and other trail networks.”
The current Covid pandemic has slowed and stalled future plans for all communities over the entire United States, but rest assured Lyme properties will continue their mission to revitalize downtown West Lebanon.