By Brooke Geery
RUTLAND— The former Knight of Columbus (KOC) building is showing the classic signs of remodeling, as it is one of the several properties purchased by Belarus-native and Guilford, Vermont, resident Pavek “Paul” Belegour, 50.
The tech mogul and cryptocurrency investor has been in the news a lot lately, after purchasing at least 3,100 acres and 10 buildings and businesses in Windham, Windsor and Rutland counties over the past two years. He is working on a “Viking Village” theme park in Guilford, and on May 4 he also took over the media operations of the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal.
The KOC building is currently his only project in Rutland, but as soon as he entered the building at 21 Merchants Row, Belegour knew it was a worthwhile use for his newfound cryptocurrency riches.
“The value of this building is not the building itself, it’s the history,” he said. “I felt that it had to be preserved. It deserved to be restored to its former glory,” he said.
Belogour bought the building from the fraternal organization in June 2020 for $215,000. Sean Reilly, president of the Knights of Columbus Building Association, told the Rutland Herald in January that after expenses, the KOC came away with about $165,000.
The plan for the building now is to create a premiere event space, restoring the halls to their former glory for weddings and events, and removing dropped ceilings that cover the historic charm. The building already offered sports facilities, banquet halls and bar, so Belegour and his architecture team are mainly in preservation mode, keeping as much original as possible. However, to comply with accessibility laws, an elevator shaft will be added to the back of the building.
Belegour teamed up with Ed Clark, who is principal at NBF Architects and is himself a past Grand Knight of the Rutland Council of the Knights of Columbus. Clark said the first priority was fixing the failing roof. From there it’s a process of tearing down layers to restore them fully, a slow, but deliberate process.
Many have raised concern about Belegour’s motives, but he insists he’s only interested in preserving the charm of Vermont, noting the similarities in weather, topography and culture to Belarus.
“I am kind of a conservation freak,” he said. “I hate seeing loggers buying land. Everyone says I bought all this acreage, but it’s not because I’m going to build my house there. I have pissed off the so-called conservationists because they come in and say we want to preserve your property, we need to cut a shitload of trees. I said, listen, it takes 80 years for a tree to come up. Are you telling me that man can manage the forest better than nature itself?”
He actually discovered Vermont after purchasing a farm in Bernardston, Massachusetts, in 2008 and traveling around between Greenfield, Massachusetts, and Brattleboro. He said he found the area to be remarkably similar to Belarus.
“I got introduced to Brattleboro around 2008 when the first financial crisis was hitting the market,” he said. “I had made some money and I figured before my bank, which at that time was Sovereign Bank, goes bust, I said why don’t I go buy something? At least I have something tangible instead of just money.”
Living on the Vermont/Massachusetts border, Belegour realized pretty quickly that Vermont was more his speed than Massachusetts.
“I started to get to know it a little more and I felt that Vermont has that charm that Massachusetts doesn’t have,” he laughed.
Belegour, who lived in Dubai for seven years before relocating to New England, speaks very highly of Rutland, especially the neighborhood which houses the KOC building.
“I love Rutland. It’s one of the best small city’s downtowns I’ve been to. It’s kind of like a little bit of New York right in the center of Vermont,” he said.
If all goes as planned, the new KOC building will reopen to the public during the spring of 2022.