WILMINGTON- Second-home owners Dan and Tamara Kilmurray think of Wilmington as more than just a vacation place. For them, like many other second-home owners, Wilmington is truly their second hometown.
“It’s not a tangible thing,” says Tamara Kilmurray. “There are a lot of ski areas where you can buy a place and have great skiing. My husband and I wanted a place that felt like home, where we felt like we had a connection. We specifically chose a place with a downtown, a history, and local people running local businesses.”
Kilmurray says she and her husband have roots in Wilmington. Both had been coming to the Deerfield Valley before they met – since before they bought a second home almost a decade ago. Like many second-home owners, they feel a commitment to the area, and to the people who live here, whether it’s full or part time. After the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene, the couple was moved to do something – something meaningful and lasting – to help their adopted community.
Several weeks after the storm, the Kilmurrays established the Wilmington VT Fund, a nonprofit that will act almost like a “charitable land trust.” Their goal is not only to rebuild and preserve the historic village buildings damaged by the storm, but to develop the businesses that will occupy them.
“We don’t want buildings to be dark,” says Wilmington VT Fund board member Julie Lineberger. “A vibrant village is important to people year round.”
The board’s plan is to buy historic properties, restore them, and then rent and eventually sell them to businesses. “We want to get them back into the hands of individual business owners,” Lineberger says.
Lineberger says work is already underway to purchase one downtown building damaged in the flood. “Right now we’re under contract on a building in the historic district, and we hope to close by mid-March.” She declined to identify the building until the purchase has been completed.
Once a building is restored and ready for use, the board will solicit business proposals, awarding assistance only to those businesses with plans that the board believes can be successful. “Our vision is to go beyond just buildings,” says Tamara Kilmurray, “but that seems to be the most immediate need. We need to put businesses back in town and put people back in business. After the recovery, we want the town to continue to be a growing, vibrant place where people can come and make a living.”
Dan Kilmurray says the fund will also seek successful businesses that may be interested in moving to Wilmington. “The primary intention of this money is to seek money,” he said, at a recent selectboard meeting. “The best possible scenario is for someone to come in wanting to invest money in this town and having some money to put at risk. We’re interested in supporting that person.”
Kilmurray who, like several other board members, has extensive experience in the financial sector, says the fund is similar to a venture capital fund. “But we don’t need to make a profit,” he says.
The fund has applied for 501(c)(3) status. Until their application is approved, they’re working under the Vermont Preservation Trust’s 501(c)(3). Kilmurray says the group’s attorney – a second-home owner who is donating his time to the fund – says that because of Wilmington’s flood disaster, the Wilmington VT Fund will be able to operate in a way that’s similar to a for-profit business – they’ll be able to make “profit” that’s plowed back into the fund. Kilmurray says the IRS will keep an eye on the fund and, eventually, place constraints on it that are more in line with those of a typical nonprofit. “When that happens, we hope we can recirculate the money and we can be an ongoing thing like the Windham Foundation, and start doing classically philanthropic things in town.”
Board members have set a hefty fundraising goal of $3 million. “It’s a lofty goal,” acknowledges Tamara Kilmurray. “It started out significantly less. Originally we had one million in mind, but as we explored what the needs could be and what the possibilities for raising money could be, we raised the goal.”
The fund’s current balance is already at $350,000 – $250,000 of which was donated by the Kilmurrays. “We feel that strongly about this,” Kilmurray says. “We also feel that you don’t go to friends and ask them to write a check if you have not done so yourself.” Other board members have also donated to the fund.
Both Dan and Tamara Kilmurray say they have plans to step up fundraising through events and by getting more second-home owners involved. “Second-home owners are people who love the valley and want to spend time here,” says Tamara Kilmurray. “And they have some roots here.”
“We’ll only be as successful as the amount of money we raise,” says Dan Kilmurray. “We could be modestly successful with the money we have now. But we could be really successful in jump-starting and attracting business to this town.”