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Lawyer Pair Back Preservation-Minded Billionaire

This week's Boston Globe Sunday Magazine featured an article, "The Billionaire and the Bookstore," about efforts by Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, to preserve the historic, small-town character of the island of Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast. Eric Schmidt was number 48 on last year's Forbes 400 Richest Americans list, and the Silicon Valley power couple have been summering on Nantucket since first visiting it in 1998. But as the island has grown more exclusive and developers have snatched up more of downtown, Wendy Schmidt grew concerned that the island was losing its character. After taking a few tentative steps into preservation, Schmidt took what many saw as a major leap -- setting up a philanthropic organization to invest in downtown Nantucket real estate and put it to use in ways that preserve Nantucket's "authenticity."

That organization, reMain Nantucket, is now up and running, and the two people staffing it and carrying out Schmidt's vision are both lawyers who have been active in the island's civic affairs for many years: Melissa Philbrick and Rachel Hobart. Another recent article, this one from the Nantucket Independent, says that Philbrick is putting a portion of her law practice on hold to work with Schmidt's reMain. A 1984 graduate of Columbia University Law School and longtime Nantucket practitioner, Philbrick signed on in the hopes of preserving a way of life she loves, she told the Independent. "I've known Wendy for a while, represented her and had been interested in her ideas and her foundation's goals. Professionally, it's very exciting to talk about some of the big picture issues for the downtown." Hobart, reMain's project manager, is a 1987 graduate of Northeastern University School of Law who no longer practices law but has served on various civic and community boards.

One of reMain's most talked-about projects has been the purchase of a small bookstore and the historic building that houses it to save it from having to move or possibly close. Benefactor Schmidt became what the Boston Globe calls a "benevolent landlord," allowing the store's operators to rent the space at significantly below-market rates. Schmidt owns the business name, but the store's two operators own the business and the inventory. "Schmidt likens her role to that of creating an 'incubator' that fosters new locally owned businesses until they become successful enough to stand on their own feet," the Globe says. "She hopes to expand the incubator concept to other locally owned downtown businesses soon."

Next up for reMain and the two lawyers who staff it is a comprehensive survey of islanders to help identify priorities for preservation, with help from the Urban Land Institute. "We want this ULI process to be as transparent as possible and meaningful as possible and as credible as possible," Philbrick told the Independent.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 2, 2008 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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