Marlboro Music Festival says it will buy former Marlboro College campus

Marlboro College
The Marlboro College campus. Courtesy photo

The Marlboro Music Festival has announced a deal to purchase the former Marlboro College campus, settling the ownership dispute between the scandal-plagued would-be college and mysterious Canadian company fighting over the property.

The 500-acre parcel known as Potash Hill has been the site of significant turmoil and controversy since 2019, when Marlboro College first announced that it would merge with Emerson College in Boston after years of steadily declining enrollment.

Democracy Builders Fund, a nonprofit helmed by a former Obama adviser, purchased the campus last year and pledged to create an alternative, low-cost college for marginalized students.

But the project was beset by scandal and turmoil nearly from the start. “Degrees of Freedom,” as the initiative was called, never secured regulatory approvals to confer degrees, and its founder, Seth Andrew, was accused this spring by federal authorities of stealing over $200,000 from a charter school network he founded. 

Before his arrest, Andrew also brokered a sale-leaseback agreement with Type 1 Civilization, an LLC owned by Adrian Stein, a Canadian businessman with grand plans to create a new cryptocurrency and tech hub at the campus. The deal between Andrew and Stein quickly went sour, with both claiming ownership of the property in filings with the town clerk’s office.

The college has been the world-renowned classical music festival’s summer home for over 70 years, and the music school holds a 99-year lease on the property. The festival had bid on the campus when Marlboro College first started looking for buyers, but lost out to Democracy Builders. 

With Democracy Builders and Stein still at odds over ownership after Andrew’s arrest, the festival went to court this year to ask a judge to sort out to whom it should be paying rent. This deal settles that suit, according to all three parties.

“We are delighted to announce this historic agreement enabling us to protect Potash Hill and our use of the campus,” Christopher Serkin, Marlboro Music’s President and Board Chair, said in a joint statement with Democracy Builders and Stein.

The festival is exploring year-round use of the facilities, they said in the statement.

“I plan to ask our Board for a temporary moratorium on off-season use of the facilities,” Serkin said. “We will be using this transitional period to carefully study and assess the campus; to seek input from our friends and patrons, town residents, conservationists, and other vital constituents; and to evaluate our goals moving forward.”

Brian Potter, a spokesperson for the music festival, declined to name a purchase price. “We know this information will be made public at some point and may be able to comment further then,” he wrote in an email.

While both Democracy Builders and Type 1 have both signed off on the deal, “a number of legal and regulatory hurdles” remain, Potter said.

“It has been a pleasure working with Chris and his team to forge a stable future for the property, to settle campus-related debts, and to resolve the dispute between our organization and Type 1 Civilization,” Alize-Jazel Smith, the chair of Democracy Builders Fund, said in the statement released by the festival. “My colleagues and I remain deeply committed to our innovative vision for serving students from vulnerable populations, yet we have come to realize that Potash Hill is just not practical for our operations.” 

Smith did not respond to follow-up questions sent via email.

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