Tuesday September 4, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- For 15 years, a local group has been quietly working to convert the abandoned Great Barrington Fairgrounds into a community center for recreation and agriculture.

Now, the group says it is close to a deal to purchase the land from its current owner, a Connecticut-based hedge fund.

The Fairgrounds Comm unity Development Project took out an option to buy the 57-acre property in early July. The group has until Oct. 15 to close the deal.

"We're very confident at this point," said Bart Elsbach, a member of the group.

There is, however, still some uncertainty surrounding the plans.

Elsbach, a landscape architect from Sheffield, said the group is still working to raise the capital needed to complete the deal and is actively seeking donations.

"We are looking into various sources of revenue and talking to private funders, asking for help to put together the funds we need," Elsbach said.

The terms of the contract negotiations prohibited Els bach from disclosing the potential sale price.

Silver Point Capital, which bought the site at a foreclosure auction in 2010, had initially listed an asking price of
$1.9 million.

Elsbach has called that price unrealistic, saying Silver Point still considered the property a viable site for a commercial venture.

Members of the Fairground Community Development Project, who have been eyeing the site since it ceased operations in 1996, were only recently able to persuade the property's owners to consider a different use for the space.


Advertisement

"They were still holding on to the hopes that they might be able to put a big commercial endeavor on the site," Elsbach said. "We were able to encourage them to see the light that the town has very little interest in that and that the economic climate is very bad right now anyway."

Up until 1996, the site was used for horse racing and agriculture, as well as being host to the Barrington Fair for two weeks each fall. Between the 1940s and 1976, when the site was owned by Agawam businessman Ed ward Carroll, it attracted more than 15,000 visitors daily during operations.

The New York City-based F Group bought the site for $2.7 million in 2006 with the intention of building mixed- use facilities there, including a 100-room hotel.

Those plans never developed and Silver Point foreclosed on the property in 2010.

The Fairground Comm unity Development Proj ect's goal is to clean up the site, which it calls an eyesore, while maintaining and restoring most of the structures, including the grandstand, said Janet Elsbach.

She said the group will work with existing community org anizations to restore a natural landscape with an agricultural component.

The space would also be open to the public for outdoor recreation and could potentially host a farmers market, Elsbach said.

For more information, to get involved, or donate, contact Janet Elsbach, janetelsbach@gmail.com.