GREAT BARRINGTON -- After 15 years of trying, a local couple has finally purchased the Barrington Fairgrounds property on Main Street.

Fairgrounds Realty LLC, consisting of Bart and Janet Elsbach of Sheffield, recently purchased the 57-acre site for $800,000, according to documents on file at the Southern Berkshire Registry of Deeds.

The property's former owner, BMR Funds LLC, is connected with Silver Point Capital, a Connecticut-based hedge fund that purchased the parcel at a foreclosure auction in 2010.

The two sides were close to a deal in September, but Elsbach was still raising capital, so BMR Funds set an October deadline for the sale to close. But according to Elsbach, when the two sides failed to reach an agreement by that date, BMR agreed to extend the deadline for a little while longer.

In order to finally close on the property, Elsbach said he changed his purchase strategy. His limited liability company took on the debt to finance the sale, and he is currently setting up a structure that will eventually turn ownership over to the nonprofit Fairgrounds Community Development Project, a community-based organization that has some 60 members.

"We're setting up the structure so the nonprofit can pay us back to take over the title," said Bart Elsbach, who is a landscape architect. "We had to have a different financial strategy to finally crack the egg."

The Fairgrounds, devastated by the Memorial Day tornado of 1995, have been dormant for over a decade. Several proposals have been floated for the property over the last several years. A proposal to develop a year-round simulcasting facility similar to Off-Track Betting was shot down by the town in the late 1990s. A proposal during the early 2000s to build a mixed-use development on part of the site that would include a hotel and conference center never panned out.

Elsbach said the couple plans to turn the parcel into a multi-use site with educational, agricultural, open space and recreational components that will eventually be operated by the community-based nonprofit organization.

Elsbach said his pursuit of the property didn't take 15 years per se, but "took time over the course of 15 years."

"Over the course of the last 15 years, a number of owners have had control of the property and have given us the impression that they were serious about selling it," Elsbach said. "Over the years we've been working to raise the funds, and we were stymied at every point when it came to site control.

"We had been strung along," he added. "But we agreed to give it one last shot. This was an ideal moment in the economy and in where we are in our lives."

Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell said he couldn't comment on the site coming under local ownership because Elsbach's group has yet to file plans with the town.

"I haven't seen a proposal about how they want to develop it," he said.

Elsbach said his group doesn't plan to file plans with the town by a specific date, but hopes to take that step by this summer.

"As far as filing building permits to improve the structures and so on, that's going to depend first and foremost on fundraising," Elsbach said. "We need to do fundraising to renovate the grandstand and put other projects in place."

He said renovating the grandstand, where horse racing took place during the Fairgrounds' heyday, would probably cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" that would have to be raised through a capital campaign.

"The buildings are completely unusable at this point," Elsbach said, referring to the property's other structures. "I very much hope and expect we won't have to tear things down and start from scratch, but there will be major renovations."

Elsbach said the group's "working budget" is currently low, but that the nonprofit has formed committees to examine different aspects of the group's plans. Donations have also begun to trickle in from the community at large.

"We don't have a big budget at this time," Elsbach said. "But every dollar that comes in helps. We've had a steady stream of small- and medium-sized donations come in over the last month or six weeks before the end of the year. It's been very encouraging."

He said the group intends to begin cleaning up the Fairgrounds property when the weather breaks in the spring.

"There's a lot of debris there," Elsbach said. "We need to do a big cleanup."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.