Vermont’s downtowns and village centers have been in the spotlight recently for efforts to make them more vibrant and prosperous. The Green Mountain Awards were part of the Vermont Downtown Program’s annual Downtown Conference in Middlebury last week, which celebrated 11 years of revitalizing Vermont.
“These awards recognize the hard work and dedication to community revitalization that goes on in so many Vermont towns,” said Joss Besse, Director of the Division of Community Planning and Revitalization. “Our downtowns and village centers are so critical to our way of life, and much of the effort that sustains them is volunteer.”
One of the award winners was the venue that hosted the awards – Middlebury’s Town Hall Theatre, which had fallen into serious disrepair after it was abandoned as the municipal offices years ago, won the Best Building Renovation award.
“In addition to restoring a landmark building in a prominent location, this building is providing a space for many uses that can help ensure the long term economic vitality of a historic downtown in changing times,” Besse said.
The Best Economic Restructuring Story award went to the Downtown Rutland Partnership for their “Free Rent For A Year” initiative, which provided funding for a new or relocating business in Downtown Rutland to.
“Facing an all-too-common problem for downtowns – vacant retail space – the Partnership came up with an innovative solution that brought positive statewide attention to the city and helped bring a new business downtown,” said Besse.
In addition to providing training, technical assistance, and administering grant and tax credit programs, the Downtown Program also oversees designation of downtowns and village centers.
To date, 23 downtowns and 94 village centers are designated and all older and historic buildings in these designated areas are eligible for these investment incentives.
To become a Designated Downtown, communities must have both a downtown revitalization organization and demonstrate their commitment and capacity to support such a program, as well as meet several other requirements. Village Centers go through a similar, but abbreviated process.
Designated communities become eligible to compete for funding for building rehabilitation and safety improvements, and transportation projects.
The award winners announced at the Green Mountain Awards Luncheon:
Best Building Renovation
The Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury
The restoration/renovation has restored original detail to the interior and exterior, including windows throughout the building- installing the town’s original bell in the bell tower- and installing a weather vane similar to the original.
The restoration/renovation project has allowed a state of the art performance space, art gallery, and dance studio to be created within a 19th century building. The Town Hall Theatre will play a pivotal role in bringing residents and visitors to Middlebury for many years to come.
Best Public Space Improvement
Bank Lot Park, Wilmington
Best Public space improvement is given to a community that has demonstrated a willingness to invest in public space improvements as an integral part of a community revitalization effort.
On Easter Sunday, April 7, 2007, one of Wilmington’s landmark buildings, the old bank building burned to the ground. One third of the land fell into the Deerfield River as a wooden retaining wall also burned and gave way.
After a special town meeting, a plan was developed including a special set of criteria created by The Beautification Committee with the goal of creating a “gathering place” both for community and for tourists to enjoy.
After a planning grant and approval by the citizens at town meeting, funding was secured and work began. After much hard work and volunteer hours, the Wilmington community’s Bank Lot Park was completed in May of 2009.
Best General Image Campaign
Destination Historic Poultney, Poultney
The general image award honors any campaign designed to improve the overall perception of a downtown or village center. Poultney took the position that historic preservation is integral to a vital downtown and village center. They adopted in their Economic Development Strategy opportunities that stress the area’s cultural, historical and recreational assets. Believing such, Poultney created Destination Historic Poultney – Historic Walking & Driving Tours – comprised of a website, C.D.s and brochures. The website offers the tours as streaming audio, downloadable MP3 files and a podcast with photographs accompanying the audio.
The production was a community partnership involving the Town of Poultney, The Poultney Downtown Revitalization Committee, the Poultney Historical Society and Green Mountain College. Teams of GMC students and Historical Society members collected oral histories from longtime Poultney residents. The Society advised the College’s Communications class in taping those histories as well as in collecting crucial historical data for use in writing the tours.
As a result, the community has seen increased, community enrichment and the ultimate goal to promote Poultney as a destination for historic tourism.
Best Special Event
Pocock Rocks Music Festival and Street Faire, Bristol
The Bristol Downtown Community Partnership sought to create an event that involved the broad spectrum of the community and to celebrate what makes Bristol special and its heritage.
Bristol was founded in 1762 and originally named Pocock, after a British Admiral, so the Promotions Committee picked that name for the event and the date of June 20th and began the planning.
The goals were to showcase downtown, support downtown businesses, involve diverse groups, support the arts, and celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial.
Despite the challenging economy, the promotions committee secured three major media sponsors the Addison Independent, 99.9 The Buzz, and Spin Creative which provided marketing expertise.
On the day of the event they closed off the street and filled it with local food booths, arts, crafts and businesses in celebration of the town and its history. Local bands played in the street and young and old enjoyed the sounds, shopped and ate, and Pocock Rocks has now become the annual signature event for the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership.
RUDAT-Building a New Newport, Newport
To create a durable vision plan for Newport, the Newport City Renaissance Corporation board of directors engaged in a Regional Urban Design Assistance Team (RUDAT) visit, a 5-day resource team visit from experts with the American Institute of Architects that blend citizens concerns with national quality expertise in town planning, landscape architecture and Historic Preservation.
From November 2008 to April 2009 the NCRC board of directors and a steering committee of 25 began to plan to for the comprehensive visit. During the March 2009 RUDAT visit, nearly 30 volunteers assisted the eight member team and over 150 community members participated in three separate community forums to create the vision for a “New Newport.”
As a result of the visit and the RUDAT report, action plans have been developed with direct recommendations for the Promotions, Design and Economic Development subcommittees.
Additionally, The NCRC received over 50 letters of support for its USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant application and the result was a grant award for $120,000 toward resource development that will assist in sustaining the organiz
ation over a two year period.
Best Economic Restructuring Story
Downtown Rutland Partnership’s Free Rent For A Year Initiative, Rutland
Converting underutilized space in the downtown into economically productive property helps boost profitability and creates economic vitality. In an effort to help build business in uncertain economic times, the Downtown Rutland Partnership launched a new initiative called Free Rent For A Year in Downtown Rutland to one new or relocating business into downtown.
The award went to a new retail business that was located in a first floor vacancy and signed a three year lease. From this new downtown business a retail incubator of artisans has been created in an attempt to fill other downtown vacancies. It has been a remarkable success and the Partnership plans on rolling out phase two of the program later this year.
Outstanding Staff Achievement
Karen Bresnahan of Downtown St. Albans, St. Albans
Karen Bresnahan of Downtown St. Albans was nominated for the award by fellow downtown director, Michael Coppinger, of the Rutland Downtown Partnership. He praised Bresnahan for her collaboration in working with other downtown directors, and for her work on St. Alban’s master plan, saying “This plan shows great vision and it will lead to the continued success and sustainability of her downtown community.” Coppinger noted Bresnahan’s direct support Rutland established a relationship with a real estate developer working in both communities.
Volunteer of the Year
Paul Trudell of the Morristown Alliance for Culture and Commerce, Morristown
This award is granted to an individual who has exhibited a commitment to the community’s business district revitalization efforts through the unselfish donation of time and talent. Paul Trudell of The Morristown Alliance for Culture and Commerce has volunteered his services to the various “downtown” efforts in Morristown even before it was a “Designated Downtown.”
Trudell has been on the MACC board since its creation and has played a vital role in almost every grant written and awarded by providing professional drawings, such as streetscape improvements and building facades. He has also worked with downtown property owners assisting them with drawings for improvements to their building facades and helping with tax credit applications. Trudell has also been on the street helping to plant trees, spread mulch and fill the 60 planters distributed around downtown.
For more information please visit: www.historicvermont.org/programs/downtown.html