20/20 foresight; task forces moving on

MANCHESTER - Six weeks have passed since the final Manchester 20/20 Community Visit, where four task forces were created to focus on the top priorities for residents of Manchester.

Those priorities included developing a small business incubator, become a biking center and destination, attract higher education opportunities, and redeveloping the Riverside and open a Riverwalk.

In the final meeting of the Community Visit in May, each group met in different parts of Burr and Burton cafeteria and classrooms to create action plans and determine what resources would be used to carry them out.

Since that last community meeting, each taskforce has been getting together individually to make progress on their action plans, from creating surveys to making maps and filing paperwork.


Ellen Ecker Ogden and the rest of her taskforce are working on turning Manchester into a biking destination center.

Action steps outlined in the group's first meeting since the conclusion of the Community Visit included creating a bike share program, adding bike racks around town, creating a bike map, and reaching out to hotels to create incentives for bikers.

"We are lucky because we had a lot of development done by individuals before I came on board," Ogden said.

With help from task force members Joe Miles and Joe Wagner, they are already on their way to having biking maps of the area, she said.

"There has been effort in the works for quite some time [within the Manchester and the Mountains Bicycle Club (MMBC)] to lay out routes," said Wagner. "They're for someone who wants to come bike who doesn't know the area."

"We are trying to get more people to travel to the area," Miles said, "because we have a great area for road biking... it's a biker's inside view."

Wagner explained that they intend to have the map available at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, local restaurants, and lodging. It will also be dispersed to bicycle clubs in adjoining states as well as in New Jersey.

The map will cover areas outside Manchester as well, thanks to help from the surrounding bicycle clubs, including as far north as Wells, down to north Shaftsbury and Wardsboro, east to Grafton and Chester, and as far west to include Jackson, N.Y.

The other side of the map features topographical maps of select routes, complete with graphs that show the amount of traffic, percentage of paved roads, and a QR Code - a barcode for smart phones to scan - that will give a GPS location.

"We hope to expand [the map and the club] to mountainbiking soon," Miles said.

Ogden said that she spoke with Seline Skoug, Interim Executive Director at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC), about an idea for installing creative bike racks around town in partnership with SVAC.

"It sounds like a fantastic idea to combine color and creativity with bicycling," Skoug said in an e-mail. "We have folks who bike up the driveway, we'd love for them to park and enjoy the museum, our free galleries and perhaps enjoy a cool drink at our Cafe or our deck. It also connects us to the other great venues going on around Manchester."

"This is the right place and the right time for everything," Miles said.

Skoug is meeting with the task force next Tuesday to discuss the racks in detail.


The second taskforce, led by Chairwoman Jen Hyatt, involves attracting a higher education opportunity in Manchester.

They decided to begin their process by crafting a survey that will create an inventory of what the town wants to see, as well as what it already has.

"Everyone is all over the map on what they want," Hyatt said of both community input and discussions from within the taskforce itself. "Some have the mentality of if we build it they will come... and others have big dreams for the project." Hyatt explained that it is currently hard to find where to go next without the survey results due to the diverse stance that the task force, and the community, has on the matter.

Once the results are in, their discussions will also include what the town will be able to financially sustain.

"Our ambitions are initially small," Hyatt said.

After the results are in and discussions are initiated, Hyatt explained that their next steps involve reaching out to colleges in the area and potentially create a launching point from there.

"We have a lot of education liaisons in our group," Hyatt said. "It's a diverse committee... it gives a good representation of the town."

Hyatt said that they plan on having the survey out by the end of the summer so that they can begin analyzing and making plans off the survey by early fall.

Out of these needs came a survey that Hyatt said may potentially merge with the survey needed for the Small Business Incubator.

"We don't want to over-survey the Town," said Hyatt of why they were looking to merge. "We want quality responses."


The Small Business Incubator taskforce, led by Chairman John Conte, has been described by both Conte and Hyatt as working closely with the Higher Education taskforce.

"There are definitely crossovers," Conte said of the two groups. "We're both surveying... they are asking local businesses what majors might benefit them."

Their first step involved creating a survey that they have hosted on their website, incubate2020.wordpress.com.

The survey is in two parts, and each part will be available for the taking for four weeks; the second survey will be posted sometime in August.

"By September, we hope to have a clear directive of what the area wants," Conte said. "We will come together with something within a few weeks [after the survey]."

In the meantime, Conte said that they will be taking small field trips to surrounding areas to see how they run their own incubators.

"We are basing a lot off what was done in Montpelier... when they opened Local 64," Conte said. "That is sort of our blueprint."

The taskforce meets every 2-3 weeks, and according to Conte they are meetings with a lot of energy and are driven to make progress.

"We have had some newcomers," he said. "We're always willing to let people join us... everyone is welcome."


The final taskforce is concerned with redeveloping the Riverside and enhancing the existing Riverwalk. It is being led by Chairman Bill Laberge.

Their first action step involved assigning a governing body and establishing a structure.

"We have made a series of sub-committees," said Laberge, "to give attention to each action step."

They have created one to focus on the structure of the entire operation, one for communication with the community, one for organizing and keeping track of their vision that will work with the committee for design, one for contacting stakeholders and adjoining property owners, one for analyzing the current conditions of the land and the area around it, and one specifically for filing a 501(c)(3) to become a non-profit organization.

The communications committee has created a website for both those in the task force to communicate with each other as well for the public to keep track of their progress - manchesterriverwalk.wordpress.com. They will be posting the times of their upcoming meetings as well as minutes from their previous ones.

Their meetings run every-other week, with the next one scheduled for July 15. Laberge explained that by having each committee give a presentation at each meeting they have been able to keep progressing with the project.

"They are good at getting work done," he said.

Their next steps involve figuring out a timeline for all their other plans, including construction and filing of paperwork and permits. "There won't be any major construction this year," he said.

Laberge said that there are still many things to be done, ranging from simply naming the Riverwalk area, to the more complex including setting up an account for donations and working with the businesses through which the Riverwalk would run.

"We look forward to working with the new owners," Laberge said of the former bowling alley building that runs along the river. "A part of the trail enters through their property... we would love for them to call it Riverwalk Plaza."


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