Federal Business Loans Help Fire Recovery Effort

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Visiting the sandy lot on Main street where the Tisbury Inn stood before it was destroyed in a December fire, Cong. William Delahunt joined Tisbury officials and businessmen yesterday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Mr. Delahunt announced as part of the event that the inn's owners, Sherman and Susan Goldstein, had received nearly $400,000 in loans from the federal Small Business Administration to help rebuild their landmark hotel.

The congressman had telephoned the Goldsteins 48 hours after the fire, and a month later opened several avenues of financial assistance from state and federal agencies for them and other Tisbury business owners.

His work does not make him a hero, Mr. Delahunt said: "It's what I should do. It is nothing extraordinary," he told the more than 30 gathered.

"What's heroic here is the community," said the congressman. "It was the community sense that responded in a crisis."

Mr. Delahunt said he will return to the Island in May 2003 for a ceremony opening the reconstructed inn, a project with an estimated price tag of $8 million.

Back in January, the congressman visited the Island and headed a group of federal, state and local officials in a two-hour brainstorming session on how the Goldsteins and neighborhood businesses could secure financial assistance in the wake of the fire.

The inn, said Ray LaPorte, chairman of the Tisbury selectmen, represented the "economic engine" of the town.

Downtown businesses benefited in part from the foot traffic generated by the inn's health club. Without the inn, Tisbury business owners have experienced a decline in sales.

When Elaine Guiney, district director for the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), heard back in January about the foot traffic generated by the inn, she realized the fire could qualify as an "economic injury disaster."

The application for financial assistance was open to all businesses in the county who were somehow affected by the fire. "We have completed checks to four businesses [including the inn] for about $500,000 in Tisbury," said Mrs. Guiney. This money, she said, "is for working capital until a business is restored to its normal operations."

Pat Gregory, owner of EduComp, was a recipient of one of the SBA loans. "I am here today to thank the congressman for bringing down the agency heads to put this together and put it on the fast track," said Mr. Gregory. "His office has been incredibly responsive. I think it is terrific when government sees a problem and they are able to respond."

Praise for the congressman came from Mr. LaPorte as well. "[The congressman and his office] were vigilant in making sure we got the disaster designation so we could provide some relief to the businesspeople in town, particularly the Goldsteins," Mr. LaPorte said.

To the crowd standing on the sandy lot in front of a sign displaying a sketch of the future inn, Mrs. Goldstein said, "We have truly realized how important our government is for us. Without [the congressman's] leadership, without that help, we would not be looking at the reality of having the hotel here for next year at this time.

"With their help and constant guidance, we were able to access all of these marvelous government agencies that are designed to help people who are in crisis." Applause sounded around the empty lot.

Mrs. Guiney presented the Goldsteins with a check for $387,400. David Squire, a representative from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, said the agency gave the Goldsteins $25,000 to help with design costs, and they may secure a loan for a portion of the project's cost.

"This is a great example of public and private partnership," said Mr. LaPorte. "They are looking forward to putting back the smile on the face of Tisbury's Main street with the new building."

Mr. Goldstein thanked the "myriad of people, organizations and friends who offered solace" in the aftermath of the fire and assistance during the rebuilding process.

"I congratulate you for turning a disaster into a spirit of renewal," said Mr. LaPorte.

Mr. Gregory said a speedy reconstruction will benefit everyone. "We are all in symbiosis with each other," said Mr. Gregory. "The people who go to the health club in particular are often walk-in customers of EduComp. The inn itself was one of our customers. Downtown areas need anchor locations, and the inn was one of the anchors. It is a big deal for all of us."

The project's approval process went swiftly through the town boards and the Martha's Vineyard Commission. "We are confident people are really going to like the new version of the Mansion House as much as they liked the historic version," said designer David Galler of Prellwitz/Chilinski Associates of Cambridge. "It is clear that everyone wanted to see this thing built."

Yesterday's event marked the end of the site's forlorn phase. Soon activity will swarm the empty lot and a new structure will begin to take shape. "I am thrilled that we are getting toward putting Main street back together again," said Valerie Richards, director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Squire said the inn is a great asset to Tisbury, as it brings jobs and tourists who will spend many days on the Island. "Having a hole here hurts all of Main street and all the businesses," said Mr. Squire. "Our interest is in a vibrant community. This is small in relative terms, but it is very important."

"This is textbook," said Mrs. Goldstein. "Without all the help this site would have remained a sand pit for many years."

The inn will rise again in May with some extra facilities, including a 75-foot swimming pool and a 1,400-square-foot meeting room.