Should a sitting Selectman’s brother kick a town historical society out of a town-owned building on the pretense of subpar rent, and then open up a bar in that same space that the sitting Selectman may or may not have some financial interest in, where that bar may or may not pay any rent at all?
Here is what I understand to be the relevant short hand history of One Grafton Common: it’s an historical building that at some point over the past thirty years began to fall into disrepair. To the point where its last owner was seriously considering leveling it. Not wanting to see one of Grafton’s signature structures turned into an asphalt lot, the Town purchased the building. But then, not wanting to pony up to actually fix it, the Town found a tenant that would.
Enter Apple Tree Arts, who pledged to raise millions of dollars as part of its 30-year lease to renovate the building, which it did. Much to the dismay, by the way, of the Grafton Historical Society, who resided in One Grafton Common’s basement, also for short rent. Part of the Historical Society’s objection was whether the “renovations” would be preserving the essential, historical features of the building. I’m still relatively new here, but I remember some heartfelt testimony at public hearings about first kisses and on “the Grand Stairway” and teenage angst in the ballroom. Or something. John Hughes is working on a manuscript.
More practically speaking, the renovation plans literally gave the Historical Society the shaft. As in, an elevator shaft that ran right into their space. A low key grudge between certain Apple Tree Arts folks and the Historical Society folks emerged. No one came out looking particularly great.
Fast forward a few years. The renovations are complete, and the Apple Tree space looks fantastic. I personally look forward to learning how to play piano there someday, as soon as I can afford it. But all is not well at One Grafton Common. The Historical Society is out, a result of a new landlord proposing to raise their monthly rent to over three times what it has been, from $700 a month to $2600, according to the Historical Society.
Because the Town does not really want the Town Administrator’s office directly dealing with tenants, the Town subleases the building out to another entity, and it recently was in search of a new entity. The Town’s search for a new sub-landlord was public, but drew few interested parties. Why? Most of the marketable space is taken up by Apple Tree, whose only obligation is raising money for renovations. It’s a sweet deal for Apple Tree… now. It wasn’t always.
And there’s no parking, and not much a sub-landlord can do to make the building more marketable for a more profitable business. Additionally, the sublessor initially was responsible for all maintenance at the building, with no cap on their exposure, even though it is a publicly owned building.
The best public bid for the lease came from Sean Padgett, brother of Selectman Brook Padgett, in the spring of 2017. According to minutes posted on line from the Grafton Town House Oversight Committee, on which Brook Padgett presides, the new master lease was to go to Sean for a term of ten years for $1,000 annually, plus 10% of gross revenues.
Until recently, the Historical Society paid a reasonable $700 per month to occupy the single largest, albeit basement, space at One Grafton Common. This was not wholely unreasonable, and the community was served by preserving its historical collection in a historical building in the center of the Town.
But then, the master lease holder changed. The building changed. And our desire for revenue and commercial development increased. And people, myself included, started to ask, “Couldn’t we do more with the Common?”
The Common lacks parking and it’s littered with “historical” (read: old) buildings that don’t fit nicely into modern commercial development plans. Still, it has charm, and that’s hard to replicate. I’ve wondered over the years why so many white collar shops front One Grafton, and there isn’t a single decent bistro to serve me a drink while I gaze out onto the Common on a warm summer night. Something… anything… to create some foot-traffic along the common.
Enter Padgett’s Pub.
Where everybody knows your name. Or where everybody plays basketball on Wednesdays. Or where everybody holds signs for Brook at Swirls and Scoops. I’m not sure. Should be an interesting crowd. I, for one, plan on drinking there. Every. Single. Day.
And let me tell you, I have no problem with another bar in Grafton center. Please. All this talk about not wanting to “compete” or duplicate services? It makes me wonder how often some of you get out of town. It’s as though since we have a pizza place, a Chinese food place and a Mexican place, we have world cuisine covered. Stop. Let these places compete. And I’m an enormous fan of Hunter’s Tap at the Inn. It’ll be fine.
There are two issues here: First, the optics are terrible. Sean appeared before the Planning Board last month seeking a special permit for the pub, and obviously knew what to say and what not to. When asked who the “applicant” for the Special Permit to operate a bar at One Grafton was, he demurred, refused to answer the question, and noted that it didn’t matter for the purposes of the special permit.
Well, that’s true. But anyway, Sean, who is the applicant? He has to know that refusing to answer that question is a bad look. Sean said he had an “idea” of who the manager would be, but then declined to elaborate on that idea.
The second issue is perhaps the biggest: Planning Board Chair Mike Scully pointed out that the check for the Special Permit Application came from… Brook Padgett. Wait, what? Selectman Padgett now has some financial stake, however small, in the operation of a bar on town-owned property. He now is fronting money for a business with a potentially adversarial relationship to the Town. His personal money has been co-mingled with this business.
This is an enormous issue.
The 10,000 foot view of all of this is that Brook, Selectman and member of the Grafton Town House Oversight Committee, shafted the Historical Society, which is akin to picking on a defenseless kid. Then, after the shafting, made plans to operate a pub in the same space. Sean wanted the Historical Society to pay over $2,600 a month in rent for that space, up from $700. Because they couldn’t, they’re now gone. What will Padgett’s Pub pay? $2,600? Nothing? Inquiring minds want to know. Brook shouldn’t be within a thousand miles of this, but there he is, writing checks.
And how will Brook’s stalwart supporters at Apple Tree feel once they realize that Padgett’s Pub patrons will be sharing communal bathrooms with kids rehearsing for their next production of Anything Goes or Snoozy Snowflake? More to the point, how will they feel about losing their parking so that middle-aged farts can throw darts and avoid their wives? Probably not great.
I’d say I’m surprised that Brook stepped into this particular mine field, but nothing surprises me anymore.