GREAT BARRINGTON — The new owner of the historic firehouse on Castle Street continues to restore and renovate the building for eventual use as a classic car museum with office and event space.
And through his attorney, firehouse owner Ross Cameron also is asking town officials to transfer a property tax agreement between the town and the previous owner to him.
The tax increment financing agreement was a 10-year agreement that now has about two years left. It will reduce taxes paid on the firehouse to 2023, and town officials recently asked for more information on what the town stands to lose in the bargain.
“What’s in it for us?” Select Board member Ed Abrahams asked at the board’s regular Zoom meeting, in response to attorney Kate McCormick’s request to transfer the agreement to her client amid an increase in restoration costs for old buildings.
“Our costs have also gone up,” he added, about what he said would amount to an 80 percent tax waiver.
Given what she said were losses to town coffers over the years as the firehouse sat in limbo, board Vice Chair Leigh Davis said she wanted hard numbers before she would vote to transfer the tax plan. She also wanted to know how much tax revenue the town would lose from the agreement.
McCormick said she would return to the board with solid numbers.
Cameron, through Castle Street Firehouse LLC, bought the deteriorating property for $423,000 in January 2020 from 20 Castle Street LLC, whose principals included Thomas Borshoff, Ed McCormick and James Mercer.
Cameron also is the founder and CEO of Warrior Trading, and had, in 2018, installed his East Coast offices of the day trading education company to nearby Railroad Street. His company likely will use the firehouse office space being created on the second floor.
The sale relieved town officials, who had entered into agreements favorable to the previous owners when promised that they would convert the building into a culinary school and rehab the entire structure. Borshoff completed some work, and rented space for two town offices and town highway equipment, while bricks continued to fall from the building and asbestos tiles inside continued to dissolve.
Now, officials are faced with the tax question because of an agreement that was embedded in the 2012 purchase and sale agreement and approved by voters at annual town meeting that year before the Select Board later activated it.
The agreement had allowed the town to incrementally control the assessed value of the property over a 10-year period on a schedule that begins at $50,000 and ends at $500,000. After the period is up, the town will assess it at its “full and fair value,” or less, if that value drops below $500,000.
Cameron told The Eagle that his contractor has restored the shell of the building and remediated the asbestos. Next is restoration of the brick tower, on which he is working with the town’s Historical Commission. He plans to wrap up construction by the end of the year.
He also said that to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic, his company donated $750,000 to local organizations, including Volunteers in Medicine and Fairview Hospital.
When asked about the agreement, he said it was Kate McCormick’s idea.
“She thought that it was a way to get some economic savings on the work we’re doing,” he said.