UPDATED — Rich and Marni Vliet were a young couple in 1975 when they first started buying Old Town property.
“Rich began having this Old Town dream when we met,” Marni Vliet says of her late husband, who died of ALS two years ago.
First, they purchased the Looking Glass restaurant in the 400 block of East Douglas.
Then, in the mid 1980s, they began eyeing a dilapidated area of Old Town in the 900 block along East Douglas.
“We were beginning to get a feel for the frontage of Douglas,” Vliet says. “We used to sit at the Beacon and look at the block over our omelettes.”
The Vliets shared a dream and a dedication to the redevelopment of Old Town, and that included what Rich Vliet thought of as the entry point of Old Town.
“Rich was right,” Vliet says. “He said, ‘Old Town needs a face. … It needs a front door.’”
The Vliets purchased the property from 910 through 926 E. Douglas, which has 29,531 square feet over nine units. Friday, they sold it to a group called Old Town Ventures.
“I wouldn’t even characterize it as bittersweet,” Marni Vliet says. “It’s the end of a chapter for our family.”
Vliet says the closing made her think of how her husband developed the property and how a new group of dedicated people is taking it over.
“It was just such a sweet moment to think about,” she says. “It was a very respectful and warm closing.”
The people behind the LLC want to remain anonymous, but in a letter they’re giving tenants, they say they’re a local family with a long history of successful property ownership.
“It was definitely filled with emotion,” Whitney Vliet Ward, the Vliets’ daughter, says of the closing. “But we could not … be any more pleased with the new company that purchased the buildings and feel as though my dad was there giving us the big sign of approval and support, so that was pretty comforting.”
Ward returned from New York several years ago to work with her father at his Redstone Design Development. Vliet says her daughter continued on her father’s dedication to the properties.
“She not only kept them preserved, but she enhanced them.”
Ward says the family has had offers to buy the property through the years.
The offer from Old Town Ventures “kind of forced us to really reevaluate,” she says.
Ward says her mother and she discussed her father’s wishes for the property with him before his death.
“This was his wish,” Ward says. “Hold onto the buildings until you find the right buyer, and the time feels right.”
Rich Vliet also wanted to keep the property as one entity instead of selling the nine units separately.
“We both absolutely, positively feel that dad would have absolutely taken this opportunity … exactly how we are doing it now,” Ward says.
“And that’s what makes this day feel pretty special, that even though he’s not here … you can just feel him saying that this was the right time and the right deal to make.”