KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- Those eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Vermont Welcome Center on Route 279 will have to wait a bit longer.
The center’s opening will be on Oct. 11, not Oct. 1 as it was announced in August when the Sept. 1 date had to be pushed back. David Burley, director of facilities operations in western Vermont for the Department of Buildings and General Services, said Oct. 11 is the target date of the center’s opening. He did not give a specific reason for the date being pushed back a week.
May fire to blame
Much of the delay can be blamed on a fire that occurred at the center on May 22. It was caused by a propane heater and while it did not do severe structural damage, it delayed the planned July 4 weekend opening by two months.
After it was learned the Sept. 1 date would not be met, the Economic Development Partners of Bennington, a "group of individuals, businesses, organizations, and public administrators focused on the economic progress of the Bennington region," sent a letter to the Buildings and General Services Commissioner Michael Obuchowski urging his department to take "aggressive action" to ensure there would be no further delays in opening the center.
"The number of travelers using Route 279 to pass by Bennington grows daily; and while the new highway has provided a much needed enhancement to the state’s transportation needs, it has clearly had a measurable negative impact on the surrounding business community," the letter says. "With fall foliage quickly approaching, we believe that missing this opportunity would do harm to our local economy, and thus, is inexcusable."
The letter was sent Aug. 29.
The welcome center is owned by the state but will be run by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Executive Director Joanne Erenhouse said Tuesday the chamber would have liked the center to be open before the Garlic and Herb Festival and the Bennington Car Show.
Erenhouse has hired at least eight people to be at the center every day of the year from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Two people will be on site at all times to keep it clean, functional, and to welcome visitors, give them information, and directions.
She said her staff will be ready to run the center on Oct. 11.
The last two greeters are set to be trained this week. A ribbon cutting ceremony is being planned.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr