BENNINGTON — A plan that lays the groundwork for redeveloping and revitalizing properties in the heart of downtown will be the focus of a meeting on Wednesday.
A new Downtown Area-Wide Plan is meant to serve as a tool for developers who may want to invest and renovate buildings, according to Bill Colvin, assistant director and community development director for the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC).
A significant focus is on a brownfield downtown where officials hope to bring new private investment — the Greenberg block was chosen for an in-depth market study and analysis into feasibility and development.
The plan will be discussed in detail on Wednesday, March 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bennington fire station, 130 River St.
It will be a good opportunity for people to meet project team members and learn details of the plan, Colvin said.
What infrastructure, like water, sewer, or broadband internet, is there? What are the area's demographics and what commercial services can they support? Have environmental analyses been done on specific sites? They're all questions Colvin said a developer would ask before purchasing a property and embarking on a renovation or other project.
The 139-page plan was completed in January and is available online (link is case-sensitive): www.rpc.bennington.vt.us/documents/DowntownBenningtonAWPFinal.pdf.
The town received $62,000 from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to carry out the study. The town hired the BCRC to manage the project, which in turn hired Montpelier-based Stone Environmental to conduct the study. Also involved were Albany, N.Y.-based architectural and landscaping firm Greenman-Pedersen Inc.; Centerline Architects and Planners of Bennington; and Doug Kennedy Advisers, the Norwich firm that conducted the marketing study.
Local elected officials and business people served on the 13-member steering committee, which gave direction to the project team.
The plan identifies several downtown brownfield sites, or former commercial or industrial sites where contamination was removed or could be present. The steering committee selected the Greenberg block for closer study due to the buildings' central location, size and importance.
The five-acre site is bordered by State Routes 7 and 9 and consists of: The former H. Greenberg and Son hardware store at 321 Main St.; the Putnam Hotel at 103-105 South St. and 357-349 Main St.; the Old Courthouse at 209 South St.; the Winslow Block at 335-343 Main St.; the former Knights of Columbus at 307 Main St.; and the Mobil Station at 301 Main St. The buildings are currently owned by Greenberg Trust.
"I don't think you could select a site which would have both the economic impact and one on how people feel about it," he said, describing them as "iconic buildings in the heart of downtown."
The plan envisions renovated, mixed-use buildings with a combination of residences, businesses and office space, as well as adjacent public green space and streetscapes. One plan describes a new apartment building facing Washington Avenue and Franklin Lane. Another proposes a hotel in the Putnam, Winslow and Old Courthouse buildings.
"The work is purely conceptual — the idea was to spur some thought," Colvin said.
One criticism Colvin said he's heard is that a market analysis has already been done – a report commissioned by the town was last released in 2006. He disagreed with that assertion and called planning, development and the economy "dynamic and fluid things."
"To say that we're going to see a lot in common from 2006 to 2016, that's just not the case," Colvin said, noting the U.S. financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 came soon after.
Colvin said he and others don't expect a developer will follow what's envisioned. Rather, it's more likely a handful of elements will be brought forward over time.
"If you create a really attractive destination in downtown Bennington, people will come," he said. "We hope this process jump starts that."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979