Spirits were high when the Vineyard Lands for Our Community announced sweeping plans earlier this month to revamp a stretch of the Vineyard Haven waterfront.

The nonprofit proposed buying properties from the DeSorcy family along the harbor, expanding Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, creating new gallery space and building a park complete with a pavilion for performances.

But just weeks after the plans were unveiled, leaders behind the project say they are scrambling to raise the millions of dollars needed to purchase the Beach Road parcels. 

In a meeting Thursday in Vineyard Haven, nonprofit president and former Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier told people working on the project that the group had failed to officialy raise a single penny for the ambitious proposal.

“We have a tough place we have to traverse and I’ve been losing sleep over it because I can’t change the direction this is going in,” Mr. Bernier said in the meeting at developer Sam Dunn’s downtown office.

The nonprofit is hoping to overhaul the area to create a more vibrant harborfront. — Ray Ewing

Nonprofit executive director Phil Wallis, board director Andrew Flake, principal designer Josh Dunn and engineer George Sourati were among the approximately 20 people at the meeting. Mr. Bernier invited members of the press to attend. 

In an interview with the Gazette after the meeting, Mr. Wallis said there is some nuance to Mr. Bernier’s concerns. 

It is correct there is no money in the account for the project, but several donors have made pledges, he said. 

While Mr. Bernier had set a $6 million goal for closing, Mr. Wallis said the actual closing cost for the land alone is $3.5 million. So far, about $1.5 million in verbal donor agreements have been reached. 

The $6 million goal would encompass permitting and other costs ahead of construction, Mr. Wallis said. 

The nonprofit has a closing date of August 1 and Mr. Bernier said the nonprofit set a June 26 fundraising deadline.

The foundation has been communicating with 62 major donors since Christmas, and have pushed their funding timeline twice. But Mr. Bernier said the nonprofit won’t be able to delay any longer.

Mr. Wallis said that fundraising season was just getting into gear on the Island, and it is not uncommon to have verbal pledges for donations ahead of the closing date.

“Donors are just arriving and some of them expressed interest but we haven’t looked them in the eyeball and gotten commitment,” he said.

Plans for weekly social gatherings along the waterfront to show people the project’s vision are also in the works for July, according to Mr. Wallis.

In Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Bernier assured the team that the nonprofit would carry on with dignity and not give-up hope, and it would make a last-minute push to speak to as many donors as possible.

“I have gained so much respect for you,” he said to the group. “I cannot put us in a place where we’re going to get pushed around and beat up and look like Swiss cheese… failing is not an option.”

Their current proposal would redevelop five parcels from Ernie Boch Jr. Park to the now closed DeSorcy paint building. The nonprofit had applied to the Tisbury conservation commission for its proposed 25,000-square-foot building for artists and artisans, as well as moving the Althea Gallery and the home of the Martha’s Vineyard Times – a newspaper owned by Mr. Bernier. 

The project would have to go through several regulatory reviews before coming to fruition.

“We’re at the edge of doing something very noteworthy and it should be done in a way to test time,” Mr. Bernier said. “It’s not for us, but for this community.”