'Pocket Park' eyed for Main Street in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — A fundraising campaign aims to garner $120,000 to redevelop a vacant lot near Four Corners into a "pocket park."

It's part of the new SPARC Downtown initiative which aims to create a string of interconnected parks downtown, according to John Shannahan, executive director of the Better Bennington Corporation.

Standing for "spaces, parks, art, recreation, and community," it will build upon community members' previous efforts to create new recreational opportunities, while at the same time promoting future projects, he said.

"It's about 200 years in the making," Shannahan said Wednesday. "Most towns, and even Old Bennington, have a town green that's considered the 'heart' of the community."

But Bennington was designed around a major intersection and industries, he said. He spoke about the importance of parks and green space in downtowns and a recent shift in municipal planning to place a greater emphasis on people and pedestrians, rather than automobiles. He compared the effort to the Freedom Trail in Boston, "where it's not just one space, but many connected by a common theme."

The funds would transform the roughly 1,300-square-foot vacant lot at 336 Main St. into "The Park at 336," a space with benches, planters that screen views of traffic and public art.

Resident Heather Maneely gifted the Main Street parcel, just west of Fiddlehead at Four Corners, to the town in 2014.

"I've always been enchanted with that little area at 336 Main Street, and I knew I had to do something to preserve it and make it available for the whole community," Maneely said in a press release announcing the fundraising campaign. "Its small size amid the landscape of the unique surrounding buildings offers the perfect location for a pocket park. We will create an area of respite and introspection in downtown Bennington."

The BBC launched a fundraising campaign, as opposed to seeking corporate sponsorships or gifts, because the park "will belong to the community," Shannahan said. "We want everyone to take ownership. If they know every the dollar they donated went to its completion, they'll feel it's their park."

After gaining Select Board approval in February, he said, BBC's Design Committee pulled together a project team consisting of local designers, contractors, and crafts people who donated their time and services.

"One of the best parts of Bennington is that everyone cares about the downtown," Shannahan said.

The project team includes: Centerline Architects, Prue Electric, Bennington Pool and Hearth, Pembroke Landscaping, Tatro's Concrete Impressions, Tatro and Sons, Inc., and Cutler Construction, with Dick Cutler as project manager. The town would cover site preparation and excavating, Shannahan said. The hope is to break ground this summer for a completion in late fall.

SPARC will build upon past efforts in town, such as the Fountain Memorial Park completed in 2010 by the Bennington Rotary Club and town, as well as the River Walk along the Waloomsac River, the town office green and the Garden at Green Mountain Christian Center.

Looking ahead, the BBC has plans for Merchants Park on Main and Pleasant Streets, a .34 acre parcel gifted by Merchants Bank in 2014.

Based on community feedback from planning sessions, the BBC envisions dining areas, pathways, and most prominently, a see-thru canopy that will serve as a permanent stage for performances and presentations.

Future projects include Armory Park, behind the Town Office and in front of the Armory; extensions to the River Walk; and Transportation Plaza at the intersection of School and Pleasant streets, a space to greet tour bus travelers that will incorporate reclaimed marble slabs.

While each park will be unique, Shannahan said they will all include a water feature. That's a nod to projects funded by businessman Henry W. Putnam that were all topped off with a water fountain.

Shannahan said the BBC hasn't discussed whether there will be fundraising campaigns for the other parks in the pipeline.

Donations to the Park at 336 Main can be made by check payable to "Town of Bennington" with "Park at 336" in the message line.

For more information about the Park at 336 and the SPARC initiative, visit www.SPARCdowntown.com.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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