by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine A brief hearing in Windham County Superior Court in Newfane on June 9 appears to have ensured that the Marlboro Music Festival will be able to proceed with plans for its summer events without excessive worry about maintaining the former Marlboro College campus, the venue for the world-renowned festival since its inception 70 years ago.
MMF brought the case before the court in a May 12 complaint, demanding that the two defendants it named, Democracy Builders Fund and Type 1 Civilization Academy, settle their competing claims of ownership of the 533-acre campus, which the defunct Marlboro College sold to DBF last July.
File photo of students attending an outdoor class at Marlboro College.
DBF flipped the property to Type 1 in January, in a complex sale-and-leaseback deal valued at $9.4 million – more than five times what DBF had purchased the real estate for – but DBF reclaimed ownership with a quitclaim deed pre-signed in January by Type 1's Adrian Stein and filed by DBF's guiding figure, Seth Andrew, at the Marlboro town office on February 25.
That deed "appears questionable," Marlboro town clerk Forrest Holzapfel told VBM. The current litigation seeks to determine who the actual owner is by unraveling the circumstances surrounding that conveyance.
MMF's complaint arose from simple questions.
The festival organization needed to know to whom it should pay the festival's yearly rent of about $280,000, and whether the rent's recipient, be it DBF or Type 1, would keep the property in shape for MMF's seven-week season of music-making, set to begin June 27.
The June 9 hearing thus dealt with two issues: the need for property maintenance and the matter of who owns the campus. The courtroom discussion did not however get far with the latter question, which, while far more contentious, is also less immediate.
The hearing concluded with Judge Katherine Hayes ruling – with concurrence from MMF's, DBF's, and Type 1's attorneys – that MMF will hold on to the rent funds, which will be disbursed for campus maintenance costs related to this summer's festival.
Parties to the hearing indicated that they would then "settle up" as to how much rent MMF would still owe, taking into account deductions for those costs.
In an interview following the hearing, MMF president and CEO Chris Serkin said, "We are pleased that the court seemed to understand the position that Marlboro Music is in. We view the court's ruling as consistent with our interests."
A written agreement settling the terms of the maintenance arrangement is to be filed with the court by June 16.
"I think we're close" to such an agreement, DBF attorney Daniel Richardson told VBM after the hearing.
Acknowledging the other aspects of the case, he said, "This is a complicated litigation, and the parties are leery of this becoming more complicated."
At the hearing, Type 1 attorney Kevin Lumpkin indicated concern over the possibility that DBF, which is in possession of the campus, would encumber title to the property by mortgaging it, or by selling off any of the nine tax parcels that make it up.
MMF president and CEO Chris Serkin
Richardson told the court that DBF had no intention to sell any of the property, but "is seeking funding sources to make sure the campus is maintained."
The ruling from Hayes addressed that possibility, stating that none of the three parties may "mortgage, encumber, pledge, or otherwise burden any of the real estate" until so allowed by the court, as the litigation over the property's ownership takes its course.
"I hope you keep talking," she advised the attorneys at the hearing's close.