The Select Board is right to take more time before deciding whether to fund a study of the economic viability of a hotel in downtown Bennington. But considering the amount requested — up to $10,500 — this represents a small risk worth taking with the chance of significant reward.
Town Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington outlined the proposal before the board on Monday, saying there has been "anecdotal conversation on the street about whether or not a small or medium size hotel is needed, and whether there is the means to support it."
That, of course, is the salient question when it comes to any development, particularly in any downtown that is not near a major natural attraction or entertainment or sports venue. This is why developers would like to know before investing here more about the prospects for a downtown hotel.
Mr. Harrington said the study would be performed by the Pinnacle Advisory Group, the same firm that provided a hotel feasibility study for St. Albans. He said the study could also be done in phases, the first of which would take about three weeks to complete and cost $7,000. That would include a preliminary analysis to enable the town to decide whether it is worthwhile to fund a second phase, costing another $3,500, which would include room rate and occupancy projections for a downtown site.
A possible third study phase would be optional, involving the firm assisting in the creation of requests for proposals for potential hotel projects.
The proposal was put forth while the Bennington Redevelopment Group is developing a plan for reviving the former Putnam Hotel building and other structures around the Four Corners, which currently does not include a hotel. Phase one of the proposed study by Pinnacle would include an evaluation of the Putnam Hotel site, but other downtown sites could also be considered.
The Bennington Redevelopment Group and the Greenberg family, which owns the hotel and other buildings at the Four Corners, recently agreed to extend by 90 days the BRG's purchase agreement for the property.
The redevelopment group, described as a "consortium of local business leaders, institutions and civic minded investors," and including financial, medical and educational institutions, along with private companies, said they are considering a redevelopment effort costing $20 million to $30 million or more at the core of Bennington's downtown.
In light of those figures, asking the town to spend a little over $10,000 for a feasibility study seems a no-brainer. Such a modest investment could pay off enormously.
Those who are skeptical about any large redevelopment efforts in small community downtowns are right to raise questions every step of the way. But increasingly there are examples of the redevelopment of historically significant buildings restored for lodging rooms, market-rate housing, restaurants, shops, cinemas, live theater and or entertainment venues.
The market, in other words, is there — even in communities of this size. Particularly when at least some of the investors are primarily motivated by a desire to see the town prosper.