MANCHESTER - More than 300 people from Manchester and the surrounding area participated in nine different discussions on Monday, part of a "Community Visit" organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

The nine topics of discussion around the future of Manchester were Tourism and Transportation, Housing, Downtown, Poverty, Expanding Economic Opportunity, Working Landscape, Food and Sustainability, Defining Authentic Manchester, Opportunities in Education, and Arts, Recreation and Nightlife.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development, or VCRD, is a non-profit organization that supports locally-defined progress of Vermont's rural communities.

Downtown

At 2:30 p.m.

Hands are raised to respond to a point being made during one of the afternoon sessions at the Israel Congregation Synagogue during Monday’s Community
Hands are raised to respond to a point being made during one of the afternoon sessions at the Israel Congregation Synagogue during Monday's Community Visit. (Lee Krohn Photo)
in the Israel Congregation Synagogue there were not enough seats to hold the people hoping to discuss downtown.

Among the concerns was that there was a consensus from residents that there was not enough vibrancy in the downtown area, other than shopping and eating there was not much else to do.

"I think our town is vibrant during a Saturday afternoon on a weekend holiday, but at other times I don't see vibrancy," said Manchester resident Joe Madeira. "The issue I see is how to make it so this town can be vibrant."

To fix the problem, ideas rose around implementing services that Manchester is missing along with making it a more pedestrian friendly area. That part is already underway with the completion of the roundabout project as the town moves to a downtown area that encourages a walking community. However more services need to be offered that encourage people to want to walk around town, several participants said.

Residents pointed to the fact that the town needs to do things like fill vacant stores, get rid of the wires that hang above the roadways, and while doing that try to build a bike path around the river that runs through the center of town, add green space, and possibly add more of a residential area in or close to the center of downtown.

Working Landscapes

After the Downtown discussion ended, Working Landscape, Food and Sustainability was the next topic to be discussed at the Synagogue.

The cast of people involved included a number of local farmers and small business owners who are worried that local foods are not being more heavily supported in the area.

The topic of the local food industry dominated early discussion as ideas floated around to build a co-op that could host a year-round farmers market and to have local schools create agricultural classes that encourage students to be more involved.

Discussion around energy efficiency stood out as the meeting started to inch closer to completion. Ideas about using recycled material such as a composting facility that can generate power and reducing the town's carbon footprint were heavily discussed as well and that making the town more energy efficient will only strengthen the towns economy.

Arts, Recreation and Nightlife

After a free community dinner provided by Manchester Elementary Middle School staff and hosted by Burr and Burton Academy the last three topics were set to be discussed, one of those based around the Arts, Recreation, and Nightlife of Manchester.

Although the arts and recreation aspect of Manchester was briefly discussed, most of the banter was around how there is not much of a nightlife in the town. During the day, recreation opportunities are abundant with a handful of public golf courses, plenty of hiking trails, and a new Park House at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.

The discussion around arts centered around how the town has a great arts community, with BBA having a strong art program along with hosting performing arts theater and dance and Southern Vermont Arts Center providing professional artwork, but there is nothing around town that really promotes the arts community.

"I think something like an "art-hop" would be great where you can have a visual art gallery like the first Saturday of every month and local artist can put their art on display," said Dorset resident William LaBerge. "I know Burlington does something like this so we can try and model it after what they do."

Ideas to get people more involved with the community came from the discussion on nightlife and other activities. A dance club was brought to the forefront of conversation along with providing night classes and other activities that do not center around alcohol.

One idea, thrown out there by Kate McClafferty who works at the Manchester Recreation Department, was to create a "Manchester passport" to get people moving around the town and visiting the different places the town has to offer.

"I know this is more tourist driven but you can have a passport that gives an incentive for people to visit different places in town," she said. "Once they visit that place they get a stamp in their passport.

After a certain number of stamps they can get a free shirt or something like that. This way I think more people will spend more time in town."