The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society is set to sell approximately 10 acres of its land in West Tisbury to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, both organizations announced this week.

The nonprofit film festival, which has long been searching for a permanent home, wants to build a year-round gathering space and venue on the property. And the sale is expected to help the Agricultural Society unshoulder a burdensome debt it has been carrying for years, and create a small endowment.

Both parties declined to disclose the sale price. But according to a copy of the offer to purchase obtained by the Gazette, the price is $1.8 million.

Named signatories on the document are Stephen Bernier, president of the film festival, and Brian Athearn, president of the Agricultural Society.

A date of May 9 is set for executing a purchase and sale agreement, with a tentative date of June 26 set for a closing.

The film festival’s plans for use of the property have not been described in detail beyond a general plan for a barn and community event space.

“For me, it’s the wood stove will be burning in the winter and the doors will be open in the summer,” said festival executive director Thomas Bena, speaking to the Gazette by phone Wednesday and describing his vision for the property. “As far as events: theatre, storytelling, workshops. We want to hear from elders in our community, to debate the issues of our time.”

Founded in 2001, the MVFF hosts a popular annual four-day film festival in March on the Island, and presents out

door screenings and events throughout the summer. In recent years, the festival, which operates out of rented space in Chilmark, has also developed an emphasis on arts education for youth.

Mr. Athearn said the society and the film festival have been talks since last summer, when the two groups collaborated on an outdoor drive-in movie screening.

He said the sale of the land will eliminate a sizable debt that the society took on 2011 when it bought the land for $800,000, under previous leadership.

The installation of a solar array on the property was intended to defray the costs, but revenue from the project never materialized as expected.

According to public land records, the society has taken out three mortgages with the Martha’s Vineyard Bank since 2011. An $800,000 mortgage was taken out in 2011; a $550,000 mortgage dates to 2016 and a $200,000 mortgage was taken out in 2018. The primary source of income for the society is the annual livestock show and fair, held every August.

Mr. Athearn said the sale will also help to establish an endowment for the 160-year old organization.

“It’s a huge deal. We’re finally going to be able to do the agricultural outreach and education we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he said, citing the upcoming Flat Point Farm fundraiser as an example of the society’s potential for community impact. “We purchased that land for the future of the Ag Society, and I couldn’t think of a better way to use it than the present.”

He said while financially strapped, the society was not looking to sell the land, and the idea emerged through the relationship with the film festival that began last summer. He said he did not take the sale lightly, and was amenable partly because of his comfort with film festival leaders as partners.

“The reality of the situation came to us and our hand was laid out in front of us on it: If we can get much higher than market value for the land, then maybe it’s worth it. We did not enter into this decision lightly,” Mr. Athearn said. “This is the most difficult decision I’ve been a part of in the years I’ve been there.”

The deal was complicated at the last minute when Mr. Athearn learned that the Polly Hill Arboretum had what he described as an informal right of first refusal on the land. Last week, the arboretum indicated interest in making a purchase, Mr. Athearn said.

Polly Hill executive director Tim Boland confirmed that the arboretum considered buying the property. He said an effort was made to reach out to donors and other Island conservation groups, but with a tight time frame, in the end the arboretum decided not to pursue the purchase. “The timeline was essentially April 12 that we had to come up with whatever counter-offer we were going to have,” Mr. Boland said, speaking to the Gazette by phone this week. “In short, we didn’t have the opportunity to gather our troops.”

Named for the acclaimed horticulturist Polly Hill, the arboretum is a nationally registered historic landscape that abuts the Agricultural Society property. Mr. Boland said a fenced-in portion of the arboretum known as the playpen near the southern border of the property is a popular attraction for visitors, and an area of concern in the event of development nearby.

“Our interests were to try to create a buffer or protect what I would say is the serenity and quiet like nature of the arboretum, particularly on our southern border,” he said.

Mr. Athearn said film festival leaders were sensitive to the arboretum’s position throughout.

“The film festival agreed they didn’t want to buy the land if there were going to be any overtones about it,” he said.

He said representatives from all three groups have since agreed to form a working group as plans for the properties unfold.

“I’m looking forward to working with Polly Hill and nonprofits as a group,” Mr. Athearn said.

Mr. Boland agreed. “I got the strong feeling they want to do it right,” he said. “This is just one aspect which is the beginning,” he said of the sale agreement. “We are hopeful that given the groups involved that they can come out with a good plan.”

Mr. Athearn said the purchase and sale agreement will include restrictions, including setback requirements and limits on the footprint of insulated buildings.

The parcel of land in question has changed hands several times in recent decades. In 2002, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (then the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society), Polly Hill and the Agricultural Society jointly purchased 25 acres of former Littlefield family land, known as Scarecrow Farm, abutting the arboretum and the Agricultural Society. The three organizations split the land, with five acres going to the society, 10 acres going to the arboretum, and 10 acres going to the museum.

When the museum abandoned plans to build a new facility on the property, it sold the land to Polly Hill and the Agricultural society in 2011, with the society paying $800,000 for 7.78 acres.

The 9.75-acre parcel to be sold to the film festival includes the 7.78 acres and two more acres of Ag Society land. The society will retain the rights to the solar array and income generated by it, both organizations said in press releases.

The film festival has been looking for a permanent home for years. In 2016, the festival bought a residential property off Old County Road in West Tisbury, but later sold it after backlash among neighbors and town officials.

Mr. Bena said the new planned purchase is a major milestone.

“We’ve been close to a decade looking for a place to build a home,” he said.