A nonprofit organization has approached the village with conceptual plans to build an indoor soccer facility at the Essex Tree Farm, municipal manager Evan Teich confirmed last week, though he declined to name the interested party.
Teich said the village doesn’t typically publicize potential real estate transactions until there’s a formal proposal to “respect the confidentiality of other parties.” But when asked about the plans last week, Teich confirmed the village offered minimal conditions under which any formalized plan would be “seriously considered,” including that the facility be open to other users.
“We’re really in the beginning stages of a conversation,” he said.
While the tree farm has hosted many different sporting events over the last dozen years, the complex is best known as home to the Nordic Soccer Club, which fills its fields during the spring and summer months before jumping over to the Champlain Valley Exposition for the indoor season.
Officials for the soccer club did not return multiple requests for comment, and neither the board nor village staff have discussed the plans publicly, though one recent trustee meeting ended with a discussion on unspecified real estate matters.
Teich said staff asked the village attorney to develop a leasing contract so that the nonprofit could approach a bank about financing. He said the village has updated the town on what’s been asked and stressed the municipalities would “absolutely” confer with the Tree Farm Management Group, which manages the complex, and any other stakeholders prior to any approvals.
“Doing otherwise would be inexcusable,” he said.
But the management group’s president, Mike Lampron, isn’t so sure. He said seeing discussions advance this far without any involvement from his group leads him to question the village’s sincerity.
“What if the Tree Management Group said, ‘Absolutely no way.’ Then what?” Lampron asked. “Either they care about our opinion or they don’t.”
The tree farm management group, formed as a nonprofit in 2000, is volunteer-run and operates independently from the municipalities, relying on rental fees instead of local taxes to pay for maintenance to the fields, entry road and parking lot.
“As the stewards of the facility, I would have thought somebody would have come to ask us,” Lampron said.
Teich sympathized with his concerns, acknowledging the “process isn’t perfect.” But it has to start somewhere, he said.
“It was always our intention to come back to their group, as well as others, and it would become public and those discussions would occur,” Teich said. “But some people asked for confidentiality up front, so it doesn’t end up being something before it even starts.”
Still, if the village or the nonprofit had checked in with the management group, they would have learned its president is likely against any new facilities at the tree farm. That’s because Lampron wonders what rules would be in place when other organizations come asking to build other facilities at the complex.
Teich said the village is working to decide parameters in case that happens, starting with whether it contributes to the “public good.”
“Is it a facility or an activity that we don’t currently offer that can improve outdoor recreation or recreation in general?” he asked.
The town and village will also need to seek approval from the state prior to any new development based on the deed requirements from their 2006 purchase of the tree farm.
The deed says the municipalities must maintain the complex as open space or use it for recreational purposes. Teich expected the soccer facility proposal would align with those requirements.
But Lampron believes there’s roughly a “kazillion” other questions that need answers, too, many of which would impact the way his organization manages the complex. Who will be around to hash out those questions is unclear: If any deal does go through, the management group may need to that out under a new president.
“If somebody is going to be making a dollar off of this, I’m not going to volunteer anymore,” Lampron said.