Editorial: Forge a partnership

What do the main streets in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven have in common? If you answered eyesores in prime business locations owned by the Hall family, you would be correct.

Let’s take inventory.

There is the “yellow house” on the corner of Main and Summer streets in Edgartown, a location in the heart of town that would quicken the pulse of any high-end retailer looking for a spot to catch the attention of the summer crowd. Instead of welcoming shoppers, it is inviting only to termites.

The house, built in 1850 and currently assessed at more than $2 million, has sat vacant since 2003, when a wrangle between the Halls and the town over the removal of a grand, old shade tree began. The Halls wanted to cut the tree. The town said no. We will spare you the details of the court case — which the Halls lost in July 2013 — and the expressions of good faith and a desire to work together and the names of architects engaged. One decade later and there it sits, neglected in one of the state’s wealthiest towns.

How is that possible?

In Vineyard Haven, moviegoers no longer regularly line up outside the Capawock Theater on Main Street to see the almost latest release. For years, in summer and winter, Islanders treasured the neighborhood experience of meeting friends in line and catching up on local news before the lights dimmed. The Capawock is a labor of love for Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall, projectionist, ticket-taker and family patriarch. His efforts to keep it alive deserve our gratitude. For now, it is mostly unused. A sign on the front advertises it as space for hire.

Tisbury selectmen would do well to question what is to become of this crumbling Main Street linchpin.

Then there are the Strand and Island theaters in Oak Bluffs. Islanders with fond summer memories of a movie and a stroll along Circuit Avenue with an ice cream in hand must cringe at the sight of these buildings.

There is no question that changes in technology and the business model have altered the neighborhood movie business for good. It would be unfair to fault the Hall family for closing the doors on a money-losing operation. But it is fair to ask, what next?

Oak Bluffs leaders have embarked on an effort to revitalize their downtown. The state of these buildings and the lack of action by the Hall family have given way to frustration.

“I’m fed up; we’re all fed up,” Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail said at the conclusion of the May 27 meeting of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, as Barry Stringfellow reports in this week’s issue.

The Hall family assures town leaders that they are doing their best to address structural and cosmetic issues with both buildings but continue to encounter unforeseen problems. Plans are in the works, engineers consulted, but there they sit, two sizeable buildings in the Island’s most vibrant tourist town left to crumble. Instead of anchoring the business district, they drag it down.

A consultant’s report titled Circuit Avenue Business District Peer Review and dated December 3, 2013, described part of the problem in Oak Bluffs. “Private investor cooperation is also part of the economic downturn in the Circuit Avenue village business district. New investments, such as the new ballroom, stand side-by-side with vacant movie theaters. These two vacant structures also grace the entry to the village. Dead space detracts from shoppers desires to walk any further. These two structures, located at the end of a rather empty walk from the ferry terminals, deter people from walking into the village. A major public/private partnership is needed to re-energize these structures. Oak Bluffs may even want to consider creation of a redevelopment entity with adequate financial resources to quickly act to ensure vacant structures do not become a drain on nearby merchants.”

In terms of the number of properties, the Hall family may well be the single largest owners of commercial property on the Vineyard. Certainly, they own some of the Island’s most significant properties. The consultant’s recommendation is applicable to all three towns.

It is time to look down the road past the lawsuits and the acrimony and the excuses and accusations on both sides. We want to believe that the Halls want what is best for their family and the Island’s interests. Now is the time for leaders in each town and the Halls to sit down and work to forge a public-private partnership that will benefit the community as a whole.