Editor's note: This story was updated on March 11, 2016 at 12:30 p.m. An earlier version incorrectly attributed a quote from Selectboard member Jim Carroll to Selectboard Chairman Tom Jacobs. The article was also updated to include a link to the study.
BENNINGTON — A multi-million dollar, private-public redevelopment of the Greenberg property would fill a "critical need" in the downtown, according to one consultant involved with a state-funded study.
"Adding housing is critical," Doug Kennedy, a Norwich-based consultant, told over 50 attendees of a meeting at the fire house Wednesday evening.
Kennedy said Bennington's downtown doesn't have much housing, which makes it different from many others in the state. And those who do live in the core of downtown tend to be a small, low-income household.
But a lively and strong downtown needs economic diveristy with people of all incomes and socioeconomic status, Kennedy said. People shopping in stores, eating in restaurants visiting art galleries, walking down streets "make it look active, like something's going on."
The "Downtown Area Wide Plan" is the latest in efforts to revitalize the town's economy and rehabilitate brownfields. It's been described as a tool for developers who may want to invest and renovate buildings. In addition to updating a 2006 marketing analysis, the 139-page documents presented a feasibility study with two concepts for redeveloping the five-acre Greenberg block. It's a brownfield, a site where contamination has been found.
A link to the study is available on the Bennington County Regional Commission website: http://www.bcrcvt.org/News_&_Notes/Bennington_Downtown_Area-Wide_Plan.php
"The steering committee chose this site because of its central location, its size, and because it's certainly a prime development parcel," said Carolyn Radisch of Greenman-Pedersen Inc.
The property includes a cluster of historic buildings with frontage on Main and South Streets: The Putnam Hotel, the Old Courthouse and the Winslow Building. It's owned by the Greenberg Trust and is home to the former the former H. Greenberg and Son hardware store as well as several businesses.
The Greenburg family, through their local attorney, was "very receptive" to having consultants look at the site, according to Bill Colvin, assistant director and community development director for the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC).
Radisch's firm collaborated with Kennedy, Stone Environmental Inc. and Centerline Architecture on two conceptual redevelopment plans a potential developer could follow.
Both proposals call for preserving the historic facades of the Putnam, the Courthouse and Winslow buildings and demolishing additions in the rear that are in poor condition. In both, the Oldcastle Theatre would remain a performing arts venue.
A new three-level building with 12,000 square-feet of retail space would be erected between the Oldcastle Theatre and Washington Street and would house services that consultants say downtown residents would need, such as a hardware store or food co-op.
Under the first proposal, the Putnam, Courthouse and Winslow buildings would be redeveloped into ground floor retail space and upper story offices. A new three-story apartment building facing Washington Avenue and Franklin Lane would have parking underneath the building and green space for the approximately 48 market-rate apartments. The estimated cost, including design and contingency, is an estimated $35 million.
In the second proposal, the remaining sections of the Winslow, Putnam hotel and Courthouse, in addition to new construction, would house a three-level, 100-room hotel. Townhouses would replace the apartment building along Washington Avenue. The extimated cost is $42.3 million.
Radisch said that the project could be financed with private funding in addition to money available for brownfield cleanup, revolving loans, and grants and tax credits for preserving and restoring historic buildings.
A developer would likely choose bits and pieces of either plan to create a hybrid of both concepts, versus following one plan as written, Colvin said.
"This is a beautiful blueprint for what we need to do," said Selectboard member Jim Carroll.
He said he expected the study to be "another analysis of paralysis," but added he was "happily disappointed."
"We can't keep paying lip service to what we need and want to do downtown," he said. "Here's what we need to do."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979