Rumor vs Fact
What You Need to Understand When Debating the JST Restoration
Without a doubt, this is not an easy, "cut and dried" project. The Josiah Smith Tavern is a 15,700 square foot building (9,248 sf occupiable) directly across from the Town Green. The building is in a historic district and an integral part of an ensemble including First Parish Church, Town Hall, the Old Library, St. Julia’s Church, and the Fire Station — all buildings that are historically significant, define the Town Center and are well-used for the benefit of the town.
The public reuse of this historic building is complicated. There are some misconceptions regarding the restoration and reuse of this building. Some of the more prominent questions are below, with the explanation following.
Tear it Down and Build New - It's Cheaper
The Josiah Smith Tavern cannot be demolished because it is protected (both interior and exterior) by a stringent 500-year preservation restriction held by Historic New England. Demolition is not an option.
There are only two alternatives to restoration:
- Have a vacant building that the town pays to maintain but cannot use
- Sell the building and lose control of the public access of this important property in the heart of the town
The entire building must be brought up to current building codes. It needs:
- structural repairs;
- all new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems;
- fire suppression;
- a septic system;
- code-compliant bathrooms;
- an elevator and other accessibility modifications; and
- parking and landscaping.
Construction Costs are High and Will Impact My Taxes
The JST restoration will be paid for with Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. CPA funds are:
- A 3% surtax on local property taxes, allowed by MGL Ch. 44B, that was adopted by Town Meeting in 2001 with the idea to fund the restoration of the Old Library and the JST and to purchase the Case Estates
- The state has contributed more than $13 million in matching funds
- Under the terms of the state enabling legislation, CPA money can ONLY be used for historic preservation, open space, affordable housing, and outdoor recreation. See the CPA overview online
- Other Weston CPA projects are online and by fiscal year
- The CPA balance fund is now more than $8 million
- Some of the JST construction money would need to be bonded. Money to pay off the bonds would come from future CPA collections and not general funds. Projects funded with general funds impact property taxes.
- CPA money CANNOT be used for schools, roads, elderly services, or any purposes other than the four specifically authorized in the Community Preservation Act (see above)
- The Permanent Building Committee has thoroughly analyzed construction estimates
Taxpayer Money Should Not Subsidize a For-profit Business
There is no difference between what has to be done for restaurant use and what would be needed for any other commercial or non-profit use. The restaurateur will get a “vanilla box” space and will have to use its own funds to put in a commercial kitchen and fit out the space (approximately $1 million expense for the restauranteur, not the town). If the Town had to build out the space, it would add another 5% to the construction cost.
After 15 years of study and two failed proposals, a restaurant for casual farm-to-table dining, with a liquor license, has emerged as a use that many town residents favor as an amenity not now available in Weston. It has the potential for great synergy with the Weston Art and Innovation Center (AIC) next door.
Restaurants Are a Risky Business, What if This Fails?
- The Webber Restaurant Group has been interested in opening a restaurant in the Josiah Smith Tavern since the first proposal was studied a decade ago. Since then, this family-owned company has added several more restaurants and continues to thrive.
- A town-wide survey issued in 2014 indicated resident desire for a restaurant in this space
- The proposed restaurant will have 105 seats, compared to 180 in the first restaurant proposal, with a smaller parking lot. As mentioned above, the restaurateur will have to invest its own money (about $1 million) to put in the kitchen and fit out the space.
- The Josiah Smith Tavern/Old Library Working Group had the restaurant proposal evaluated by a restaurant consultant. The consultant reported that Weston is a top market for a restaurant.
- The restaurant will pay a fixed rent and an additional percentage rent on revenues, as well as town taxes. Combined rents from all sources will pay for all building maintenance expenses over time. All rent not required for maintenance will go back to the town. For those concerned about costs, having a for-profit restaurant in the building is a positive.
- If the restaurant fails, the Friends of the Josiah Smith Tavern, a non-profit entity designated as the preferred proponent of the building and with whom the Town will have a long-term lease, will be responsible for replacing the business.
A For-profit Business is Getting the Benefit off of Town Subsidy. How is This Self-sustaining?
The commercial business (the restaurant or any other commercial use) will pay full market rent to support building maintenance and pay taxes to the Town. The town will fund the restoration of the entire 15,700 sf building (including attics and basements), as well as a new 2,700 sf addition for an elevator and 2nd floor egress, both necessary to bring it to code. A restaurateur would be responsible for build-out of a commercial kitchen, as well as fit and finish of the restaurant. As the JST/OL Working Group concluded, commercial use in the building is the town’s best option for supporting ongoing maintenance expenses over the long term on a building that cannot be demolished because of the stringent preservation restriction.
The Weston Historical Society uses the JST for storage of its collections and is unable to hold programs or exhibits there because there is no running water, no bathrooms, etc. Once the planned restoration is completed, more than half the building will be used by three Weston non-profits: Weston Historical Society, Women’s Community League, and Weston Forest and Trail Association. All three will be paying rent to support maintenance. The second floor ballroom, a beautiful space with a high curved ceiling, will be available for community use.
The Septic System is Going Under the Town Green and the Old Playground Will be a Parking Lot.
The proposed septic system is on the property, with the leach field where Tavernside Park used to be (not on the Town Green). The current system flushes into the abutting wetlands. The parking lot will be screened by landscaping. See the conceptual design below.
- A conceptual design of the parking and garden has been drafted
What Happened to the Design and Engineering Funds Approved Last Year?
Last year’s appropriation was for $630,000, but only $100,000 has been spent so far to do an in-depth evaluation of the building’s condition. During that evaluation, it was determined that the scope of work must necessarily expand in order to address structural and other issues that were uncovered, and the $200,000 on the warrant for the May Town Meeting is for additional design and engineering funds because of the additional scope. The architects are charged with producing drawings and specifications used to determine construction costs. At present, cost figures are still somewhat speculative, but there is no question that the cost will be higher than anticipated. This is also due to more stringent state building regulations passed in recent years, inflation in construction costs, and the need to plan for “soft costs” during the construction phase such as construction administration by the architect and owner’s project manager.
The Permanent Building Committee, working with the design team and the former chairs of the JST/OL Working Group, has thoroughly reviewed the estimate and has issued an updated construction estimate of just under $9.4 million. The April cost analysis is available online.
Let's Slow This Down and Study it More. Perhaps a Private Investor is Interested.
The restoration of the JST has been reviewed for the last 10 years by two committees and several consultants, and which is outlined on the Previous Reuse Concepts web page. During this time, no wealthy non-profit or credible “white knight” has come forward to fund the restoration and use the building. It is unrealistic to expect this to happen now.
I Have More Questions Not Addressed Here
If you have additional questions or concerns about this project, please send an email to selectmen[at]westonmass.org and staff will get the answer for you.