Bennington College Joins Local Revitalization Effort
A consortium of local business leaders, institutions, and civic-minded investors, including Bennington College, announced a plan to transform the block of historic buildings at the Four Corners of Bennington, VT into a vibrant, mixed use downtown space with offices, in-town living, restaurants and retail.
Bennington Redevelopment Group LLC (BRG LLC) has reached an agreement to acquire the buildings and approximately four acres of land that include the Putnam Hotel, the Old Courthouse/Pennysaver, the Winslow Building, Oldcastle Theatre, H. Greenberg and Son Hardware and the Mobil Station.
The group has a 90-day window to do environmental assessments, survey and title work before purchasing the property. The group expects it will take twelve to eighteen months to design and develop the project. Success will require support from the Town of Bennington, the State of Vermont and tenants who are willing to be a part of the transformation of downtown Bennington.
The project is being led by a group of community leaders from a range of institutions and interests, including The Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), Bennington College, Southern Vermont College (SVC), Global-Z International, Brian McKenna, Anthony and Jacqueline Marro and a group of local professionals. BRG LLC has partnered with M&S Development of Brattleboro, VT to help develop financing and manage the project.
Discussing what led the to the formation of what has become the Bennington Redevelopment Group LLC, Bank of Bennington President Jim Brown said, “We first starting meeting a year ago because we had a shared understanding that Bennington was in decline and something needed to be done to reverse that. We also believed that it would take private investors with a civic mindset in order for this to be successful. It didn’t take long for us to see the redevelopment of the Putnam block as the transformative project that downtown and Bennington needed to change the story and create positive momentum.”
The partners in M&S Development, Bob Stevens and Craig Miskovich, were part of the team that successfully redeveloped the Brooks House in Brattleboro, which became an inspiration for downtown revitalization as well as a model for community-enabled development. This type of development combines community investment with a mix of federal tax credits and state support for financial incentives. Stevens stated, “Downtown redevelopment in many Vermont towns is not economically viable under conventional scenarios. It takes civic-minded and community investors, anchor tenants and partnerships with the public sector to be successful.”
Thomas Dee, president and CEO of SVHC, is part of the working group. “The time is now for some of the key organizations in the Town of Bennington to work in collaboration for the welfare of our community and for the future development of the downtown region,” Dee said. “As SVMC continues to grow and develop needed community services, it is vital for our future success to have a vibrant and expanded economic base in the Town of Bennington. This project offers a great opportunity to move in that direction.”
SVC President David Evans said that he and President Mariko Silver of Bennington College have also been closely involved in the redevelopment plan. “We both know that an attractive, vital community is key to the success of our institutions and to attracting and retaining students, staff and faculty,” Evans said. “Our colleges are committed to creating a strong Town of Bennington, and we are proud to work together to help support this critical project.”
The project team intends to work with Oldcastle Theatre Company to secure and bolster that organization’s presence as an anchor of the arts and culture community in downtown Bennington. Eric Peterson, Producing Artistic Director for Oldcastle noted, “Oldcastle Theatre Company is extremely excited to be part of this major development project. It will bring new business and new energy and is exactly what is needed for Bennington to achieve its potential. A revitalized downtown will enable the theatre to continue growing; attracting audiences from New York State, the Berkshires, residents and tourists. This is the ‘home run’ change that Bennington needed.”
Elements of the project were drawn from the recently released Bennington Downtown Area-Wide Plan, prepared by Stone Environmental and BCRC for the Town of Bennington. That plan produced a market study, conceptual redevelopment scenarios and feasibility analyses which will support the proposed Putnam Block redevelopment effort.
The funding for the Putnam Block revitalization is slated to come from a combination of debt, grants and equity. Debt financing will be sought from private sources, banks, and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). Grants will be pursued from the Vermont Community Development Program and State of Vermont and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields programs. The project will also solicit New Market Tax Credits and Federal Historic Tax Credits.