On August 26, 2020

Green Mountain College sold at auction for $4.5 million

Whiskey entrepreneur plans agriculture project

POULTNEY— The Green Mountain College campus, which closed last year because of declining enrollment and financial challenges, has sold at auction for $4.55 million, much lower than the $20 million appraised value.

Raj Peter Bhakta, the founder of WhistlePig whiskey in Shoreham, had the winning bid on Tuesday, Aug. 18. Bhakta’s winning bid was $4.55 million, with a 10% buyer’s premium — the deal is valued at just over $5 million.

“We’re going to do great things in Poultney and Vermont and in America, and we’ll have more to say later,” he said at the auction.

Green Mountain College had occupied a prominent spot at the end of the main street for 185 years in the town of about 3,300 people. Sarah Pelkey, Poultney’s economic development coordinator, said she was a little disappointed that the winning bid was so low.

“It’s a beautiful space, a beautiful campus and somebody definitely got a steal today,” she said. “So, hopefully, they will be the right people for the community and they will all be able to integrate into what happens here.”

Green Mountain was among three private colleges in Vermont that closed last year due to declining enrollment. The others were Southern Vermont College in Bennington and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland.

Potential plans for GMC

By Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

Entrepreneur Raj Peter Bhakta, who founded the Shoreham whiskey company WhistlePig, plans to use the campus for agriculture, said Pelkey, who spoke with Bhakta’s wife, Danhee Kim, Wednesday. The couple’s sustainable agriculture project would involve food and medicine at the former four-year liberal arts college.

Pelkey was hired to help Poultney recover from the closing of Green Mountain College in spring 2019. The college stopped making payments on a $20 million USDA loan that year.

The property had been appraised at $20 million in 2016, according to Maltz Auction, which handled the sale. Leading up to the auction, the seller had accepted an offer of $3 million subject to receiving higher bids on auction day.

Pelkey attended the auction — though non-bidders had to watch on a screen in a separate room — and said there were three to four physical bidders there, and one who bid online. She hadn’t heard before the auction that Bhakta might be interested, but she said the state had been working with a few parties and the town for about a year. There had also been offers to the lienholder, the USDA, which were not accepted, Pelkey said.

Bhakta founded WhistlePig in 2007 and left the high-end whiskey maker for good in 2019, funding a new company, Bhakta Farms, in Shoreham. The company’s website lists addresses in France, Vermont and Florida.

According to Maltz, the Green Mountain College campus includes dorms, classrooms, administrative offices, a cafeteria, a 400-seat auditorium, a gymnasium and pool, fine arts studios and galleries, a working farm, guest residents and a wood-fueled biomass heating system.

The closure of the 185-year-old college hit Poultney hard, Pelkey said. Inside Higher Ed reported there were 492 undergraduates when it closed. The town estimated that the local area lost $6 million in pay and benefits, as well as jobs and educational and cultural experiences for locals.

“It’s a town that doesn’t have a lot of other institutions in terms of business or large-scale operations that can kind of help the town hold their own,” she said. “There are a few businesses here, but people are driving to Rutland or into New York or Fair Haven for work.”

The community would like to see the campus used for education again, Pelkey said.

“The Green Mountain College alums who are very active and interested and involved in the town and surrounding area would also love to see that happen,” she said. “If they are talking about a sustainable ag enterprise that is related to food or medicine, that is brilliant in whatever capacity it unfolds. I don’t really see where that could be a bad fit for any place in Vermont.”

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