Our view: Putnam a good project for Walmart funds

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It was announced earlier this month that a citizens group, which received settlement money from Walmart in exchange for dropping its opposition to the Walmart's planned expansion, granted $100,000 of said funds to the Putnam Block redevelopment project.

We think that's a fine use of those resources, perhaps even better than what was originally envisioned.

For more than 10 years, Citizens for a Greater Bennington (Along with the Vermont Natural Resources Council) opposed the Walmart on Northside Drive getting bigger. In 2013, the group reached a deal with the Walmart property owner, BLS Bennington, in which BLS agreed to cough up $220,000 in exchange for the groups dropping their opposition. Some of the money was slated for improving the Walloomsac River watershed, while the lion's share of it went to the Citizens for a Greater Bennington, which in turn issue grants to those undertaking projects that would improve the downtown district.

It would be awhile (2015) before the Walmart expansion got underway, and The Citizens for a Greater Bennington couldn't release any of the funds until the shovels went into the ground.

Among the grants the Citizens have doled out:

- $15,000 to Oldcastle Theatre to help market Bennington in the Capital Region.

- $25,000 to Oldcastle Theatre to support the showing of high-definition movies.

- $14,835 to Hoosic River Watershed Association to support a three-year study of macroinvertebrates in the Walloomsac River.

- $5,165 to Paran Recreations, Inc, the non-profit organization that operates Lake Paran in North Bennington. The money supports the Watershed Warriors Project, which will train youth to assess water quality in Paran Creek and Lake Paran.

- $25,000 to the Better Bennington Corporation (Now Bennington Downtown Alliance) to support the construction of the "Pocket Park."

There may have been, or will be, a few others, but clearly the largest so far has gone to the Putnam Block project.

To be clear, the lesser grants went to worthy causes. The pocket park will spruce up a vacant lot, Oldcastle Theatre is one of this area's finest attractions, as is Lake Paran, and marketing ourselves to day-trippers in the Capital Region is key.

Given that the Putnam redevelopment will cost in the neighborhood of $54 million, it might feel to some as if the Citizens just poured a bucket into a lake. We disagree. The Putnam revitalization is key to Bennington's economic future. If it can be pulled off, it will spur more private investment in the area, which needs it. The Citizens using this $100,000 in this manner shows to others that Bennington is committed to making this work. We're not waiting for a big-shot developer to swoop in and save us. We have "skin in the game," and we aim to win.


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