Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block
by Joseph Gresser
NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday. Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.
The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block. In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.
Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.
The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here. Where I was living everything was included. Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”
Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said. That will make it easier to afford the new bills.
“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants. He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.
Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently. She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.
Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates. For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”
“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said. “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”
Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.
All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program. Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.
In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.
He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move. When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.
“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.
When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street. Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.
The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.
The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history. When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.
According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block. It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.
The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor. The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire. There he added Police to his name.
His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland. His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building. The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years. The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.
Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday. Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.
He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.
“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.
She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block. Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.
That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings. Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.
She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building. Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.
Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said. When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.
If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said. “We’re going to give out some food.”
She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.
Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic. But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.
The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years. The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.
Other businesses closed more recently. Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.
Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.
Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.
Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.
The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets. Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned. The building appears as a home in an 1881 map. By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor. In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.
The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store. TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.
On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.
He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth. Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.
It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said. “I’m trying to help people. It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”
Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”
Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go. I think it’s bad news to see it go.”
Thinking it over for a moment, he added. “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”
Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.
Mr. Hildreth laughed. “So did I,” he said.
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]