Community group funds downtown banners

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BENNINGTON — The Grow Bennington Initiative completed its second "demonstration" project this week, installing pole banners on streetlights throughout the downtown.

The Grow Bennington Initiative raised the funds to design and print the banners. The Bennington Downtown Alliance (the organization formerly known as the Better Bennington Corportation) and the Town of Bennington are installing the banners stretching down Main Street from Valentine Street to Dewey Street and on North and South Streets from River Street to Elm Street.

"The brightly colored banners feature photo vignettes that convey Vermont life and small-town America," said the organization in a press release. "With photos cropped in an Instagram-style format, and captions in hashtag form, the campaign offers a subtle reminder to visitors and residents to share their own Bennington photos with the rest of the world on social media. The photos were all shot in and around Bennington, by area photographers and of area residents."

The next projects on the list include expanded downtown lighting and tree up-lighting, wayfinding signs, and building facade planters. "Exploratory talks are also underway with Promise Community about a possible collaboration on a downtown Sprayground-splash pad. Playgrounds and interactive water features draw in passersby by communicating that Bennington's Downtown is alive and buzzing and family friendly," the organization announced.

The Grow Bennington Initiative began as a group of residents collecting ideas about how to improve the downtown, and in about a year has morphed into a collaboration between businesses, individuals, the town's Community Development Office and the Bennington Downtown Alliance, formerly known as the Better Bennington Corporation.

"The era of Amazon Prime is requiring that communities fundamentally change the way they view their downtowns," said Lynn Green, owner of The Four Chimneys Inn and chair of the initiative's task force. "We all benefit from a thriving downtown. With The Grow Bennington Initiative, we believe we all can contribute."

The task force grew out of Green and a number of other citizens speaking before the Select Board last summer, after which board members Donald Campbell and Tom Jacobs put Green in touch with Town of Bennington Director of Community Development Zirwat Chowdhury and BDS Director John Shannahan. It is currently made up of Green; Shannahan; Dan Monks, Bennington's assistant town manager; David Rees, vice president of institutional initiatives at Bennington College; Michael McDonough of the BDA board of directors; Chowdhury; Teresa Maynard, general manager of The Hampton Inn; and Betsy Woods, owner of The Knotty Pine Motel.

In total, the task force identified 45 projects, large and small, that could be addressed in the coming years. Members decided to focus on four "demonstration projects" with which they hope to create a sense-of- arrival: to provide visual indicators that visitors and residents have arrived in the Bennington downtown area. Many of the ideas came from looking at what other towns have done to re-invigorate their downtowns. The tree lights that were installed last month and the pole banners represent the first two of those projects.

The group also announced the creation of two new social media accounts: They can be followed at @VermontBeginsHere on Instagram and Grow Bennington Initiative on Facebook. You can learn more about Grow Bennington and what projects they have coming up at www.betterbennington.com/growbennington. Those interested in donating to the foundation can visit GoFundMe.com/GrowBenningtonInitiative

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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