Bennington is having a renaissance.
News last week that the former Southern Vermont College campus is being purchased by developers who plan to turn the property into a destination resort — in partnership with local businesses, and with public access to hiking trails — was stunning for so many reasons.
Southwestern Vermont Health Care had acquired the 371-acre campus in 2020, during a foreclosure auction. SVHC President and CEO Thomas Dee and principals with Alfred Weissman Real Estate disclosed their plan for the developer to purchase the property and, with the historic Everett Mansion as its centerpiece, create a luxury resort.
Not too long ago, such a proposal might have been unthinkable, given Bennington’s sluggish downtown economy and sleepy reputation.
But that was then.
Increasingly Bennington is being viewed by businesses (and residents) as a destination town — a community on its way up, a place to locate businesses, a town that has grown and prospered with local support in recent years.
The resort plan is the latest example of how far Bennington has come. The developer expects the plan to generate about 150 jobs for people living in our region. The company plans to partner with local businesses when feasible. And developer Alfred Weissman pledged that the property and its cherished hiking trails along Mount Anthony will remain open to the public.
“We’ve always been a catalyst,” he said, referring to projects that stimulate growth elsewhere in a community. But, he added, “that is already happening here.”
Similar announcements came recently from Marshalls department store, Starbucks and Chipotle — all planning to locate in Bennington.
These decisions don’t happen randomly. Companies like these study potential sites to determine if they will be profitable; in other words, will the host community grow or wither?
Clearly, these outside, objective companies and developers have done their research and determined that Bennington is the place to be. And we couldn’t agree more.
That’s not to say Bennington doesn’t have its challenges; it does. We are grappling (along with the rest of the state and the nation) with issues like an opiate epidemic and affordable housing shortage. But rather than sitting around wringing our hands, Bennington is tackling these problems head-on, committed to easing the effects of substance abuse on individuals and our community, creating housing for all levels of income, improving our schools and strengthening our downtown, renovating our historic buildings and repairing aging infrastructure like sewers, and more.
In addition, Bennington boasts a first-rate hospital, higher education opportunities like Bennington and nearby Williams colleges, a relatively competitive housing market, a local airport down the road and a major airport only an hour away; nearby ski areas and a major shopping mecca 30 minutes to our north in Manchester.
There are naysayers who aren’t happy to see their beloved town changing. And while we understand that hesitancy, we truly believe that communities that fail to change and grow will, ultimately, die. We cannot allow that to happen here. Bennington and the surrounding region are gems to be treasured.
We are nurturing an economy that we hope will enable our young people to stay, find good jobs, afford a home and continue their lives here.
Weissman got it right when he said of Bennington: “You don’t need a spark; you have a spark.”