Fish House Revival Moves Closer to Reality in Menemsha

Menemsha in winter.

Plans for a community-based wholesale seafood market at the former Menemsha Fish House moved one step closer to reality Tuesday after Chilmark selectmen signed a lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust clearing the way for the new venture.

The decision marks the close of a months-long process to find a new tenant for the fish house lot in Menemsha. The town-owned waterside property at the end of the commercial fishing bulkhead has been unoccupied since fall, when the fish house shuttered as a result of the pandemic.

Selectmen and the town parks and recreation department issued a request for proposals (RFP) in December, with the requirement that the lot be used to support Menemsha’s local fishing fleet. Bids were due by Jan 11.

The fishermen’s preservation trust was the sole respondent to the RFP.

The new market, slated to open in April, will be called the Martha’s Vineyard Sustainable Seafood Collaborative and will closely follow the fish house model of buying from regional fisherman and selling to Island market and restaurants, as well as off-Island buyers, according to the proposal.

Selectmen were enthusiastic about the plan.

“It is a very sound and hopefully very long-lived enterprise to use that space and to keep the character of Menemsha as we would like it to be kept,” selectman James Malkin said.

Jane Slater, a member of the parks and recreation department, echoed the sentiment. “We have every faith in [it],” she said.

Selectmen voted 2-0-1 to approve the lease, with selectman Warren Doty, who sits on the trust’s board of directors, abstaining.

In other business Tuesday, selectmen heard early construction plans and preliminary cost estimates for a large-scale project to renovate the town’s public safety buildings.

Three years in the making, the project involves renovating the fire station on Menemsha Crossroad and relocating the Tri-Town Ambulance facility to a parcel of land abutting town hall on Middle Road.

According to Chuck Hodgkinson, who presented the plans, the designs selected by a town-appointed building committee include a shared campus model. In order to minimize cost, the firehouse will split its functions between the updated station and the new Tri-town facility, with shared space for both departments at the Middle Road location.

“The fire department and Tri-Town Ambulance service will share specific spaces and functions at 399 Middle Road,” Mr. Hodgkinson explained. “What that did is it minimized and eliminated the space and function duplication, and therefore reduce the overall square footage and costs.”

The two properties will be joined by a lit walkway, Mr. Hodgkinson said, and the project will create 19 additional public parking spaces behind the Chilmark town hall.

Architect Antonia Kenny from Keenan Architects illustrated the plans with early renderings for the two buildings, highlighting the plan’s low building height and classic New England-style architecture.

Mr. Hodgkinson said the project cost is currently estimated at $11.1 million — nearly $1 million less than an earlier draft of the plan — with costs for the Tr-town facility split among the three up-Island towns at about $1.5 million per town. Chilmark is estimated to pay an additional $6.6 million in remaining costs, Mr. Hodgkinson said.

Mr. Doty had questions about the impact of the project on town hall abutters, but all three selectmen expressed support for the plan as proposed.

“This is something that we’re projecting that’s going to last 50 years, and who knows where the program is going to be 30 or 50 years from now. It’s grown a lot in the last 10 years, certainly,” said selectman and board chairman Bill Rossi, speaking about the EMS and fire programs. “We we didn’t want to be in a position to offer up something that was adequate for today that may not be adequate for 10 years from now.”

Selectmen pledged to host a handful of public hearings before the project comes before voters at the annual town meeting in spring.