After years of neglect, a lengthy legal process, and a public bid process, the Yellow House on Main Street has been renovated and is open for business.
The project of reviving the historic, downtown Edgartown building was the result of a unique public-private partnership. The prime piece of real estate, which abuts town hall, sat in disrepair for years until voters approved taking the building by eminent domain at the April 2017 town meeting and town election. It was previously owned by the Hall family.
Town voters authorized the board of selectmen to use $1.5 million in community preservation funds and $1.5 million in town taxes to take the building.
In June 2017, Edgartown selectmen signed off on final approval of taking the building. The town then began the long process of putting renovation of the building out to bid. After issues arose during the first round of bidding, Christopher Celeste, operating as Summer & Main LLC of Edgartown, put in a bid and secured a 30-year lease with the town to renovate and operate the building. The lease secures $100,000 payment over the 30-year lease to the town and a commitment that the renovation would be completed and suitable as a retail space.
Celeste is no stranger to Edgartown — he also owns and operates Rosewater Market & Takeaway and Dairy Queen.
Speaking to The Times by phone, Celeste said he’s been interested in the property since he and his daughter, Julia Celeste-Tarka, started Rosewater.
“The corner of Summer and Main is the entrance to the town. For almost 20 years people walked by and looked at a quiet ghost,” Celeste said. “I keep saying the previous owner had it for 18 years and did nothing. We’ve had it for 18 months and look at what we’ve accomplished.”
Renovating the building hasn’t come without its difficulties. Celeste said he and others involved in the project have faced legal challenges from Ben Hall Jr., an attorney who is a member of the Hall family.
“I just frankly decided I wasn’t going to let someone’s litigious streak prevent us from doing the right thing,” Celeste said. “People kept putting their neck out to do the right thing, this is a great example — if people are willing to put their self interest aside — what can be done.”
Hall was not immediately available for comment at his office or by email.
In a Letter to the Editor, Celeste thanked the many people involved in the unique project.
“After almost two decades of neglect and legal wrangling the lights are finally on again in the Yellow House at the corner of Summer and Main in downtown Edgartown. And despite the private thanks I’ve received from many folks, the truth is this transformative project was only possible because of an expansive effort that included dozens and dozens of public and private collaborators,” Celeste wrote.
He thanked his project partners Gerret Conover and Dudley Cannada along with several contractors, builders, painters, tradesfolk, and town boards and officials who all worked together to pull the project off.
“Together, all of us, took a downtown property that once left people asking ‘Why can’t anything be done about that eyesore’ and transformed it into one that once again bustles with business and beauty,” Celeste wrote.
The entire project, which encompasses the Yellow House and a smaller structure, created three retail spaces, apartments, and an office space. The smaller structure now houses Rosebud, a children’s retail store, and the street level of the Yellow House is home to Lululemon, which will operate year-round.
The project was designed to give the town a lot of flexibility into the future. The Yellow House retail space is able to be split into two. The one bedroom, two bedroom, and studio apartments, all with full baths, could become office space for the town. A basement on the property offers laundry and storage space.
The apartments were also created to offer housing for year-rounders working downtown. Currently Lululemon is renting out one apartment to an employee and Celeste said he’s finalizing paperwork to have people move into the other apartments this weekend.
Shepherding the project through a pandemic also posed challenges. Originally, construction was on track to be finished on May 15, but after the Island’s construction ban put a hold on work the final date was moved to this month.
Celeste kept his next project underwraps, but did say he is working on a potential opportunity involved with affordable rental housing. Right now he’s focused on his other businesses
“I’m nursing businesses through this strange pandemic period,” he said. “You want to be open and be safe…for employees and the public.”