Wade Kavanaugh hopes to buy the conference center owned by Bethel Resort and Suites. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — Gem Theater owner Wade Kavanaugh, of Bethel said he had hoped to close on the purchase of the conference center off Broad Street on June 5.

The building is owned by GIRI,  the parent company of the Bethel Resort and Suites. Kavanaugh said the postponement was due in part, because survey and lot lines were in question. The new closing will happen sometime in July.

Speaking to the Bethel Select Board, Kavanaugh said, “I’m not here asking for anything, necessarily, I’m here to tell you what I have mind. What I have in mind is to not limit thinking to the walls of that building.”

After handing out aerial views of the property, he said his plan is to build a campus, “that [property] is on a direct line from the elementary school to our local trail network.

“When you look at this property from above it has tangency to the Bethel Library … you could approach something and from a design perspective as almost creating a campus that could potentially meet the better needs of the library, could better meet the needs of the Town, and could better meet the needs of kids in this community when it comes to expanding access to recreation,” he said.

Kavanaugh said he has had a personal goal of expanding access for kids to outdoor recreation opportunities for the past 15 years and while travelling in British Colombia with his family he visited several nearly identical leisure centers, “one wing was recreation, the other wing was the town library and in some cases those two spaces were bridged by the municipal offices. That model has always been in the back of my mind,” he said.


He stressed the tenuous nature of the deal.  Select board member Frank Del Duca told him that the meeting was being recorded and would be broadcast. Kavanaugh said, “[I am] going somewhat against my better judgement to do this. I have learned in this town that you don’t tell people what you would like to do before it’s approved by the planning board…” But, he said, there was importance in talking directly to the Board.

He said as a River Fund board member, they, too,  have the goal to support the building of a community center. “That’s way down the line. The type of building they would like to build is the $10M-$15M building where you need a 10-acre lot and a huge parking lot and there’s an aquatic center…”

He said his response to the River Fund board has always been, “you can’t just build something until you have the relationships figured out and you are thinking ahead about  how a building will be sustained and how the community will decide if it is theirs or not …”

Kavanaugh talked about enlisting a friend to help with the design, someone, “who understands that architecture and good design can lead to revitalization.”

He asked, “would the Town like to be involved in that conversation? …

“The right way to do this, to purchase a building with the intent of developing it for a community need is for a non-profit or a municipality to buy it. My concern was if someone waited too long. It would become an Airbnb and we’d lose that property  … ”

He said he plans to establish a non-profit within the next month that will take over the building, “however if you [the Town] would like to buy it instead, I am more than willing for you to step in,” said Kavanaugh to the select board.

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