Gov. Scott announces $1M grant for Putnam Project

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BENNINGTON — Announcement of a grant to benefit the Putnam Block redevelopment project turned festive Thursday at the Four Corners intersection as Gov. Phil Scott praised the collaborative effort and handed over a symbolic $1 million check.

About 50 local and state officials, residents and curious pedestrians gathered on the sidewalk to listen to the governor and other officials describe the $53 million redevelopment project.

An investment group including organizations, local businesses and individuals has worked for more than a year with local, state and federal officials and lawmakers to bring the project to the threshold of a construction start in the fall.

As a construction firm owner for more than 30 years, Scott said, "This all sounds very exciting to me," as he described plans to revitalize the key downtown block. The four-plus-acre site includes three historic structures, including the former Putnam Hotel, other buildings and open parcels or parking lots.

Redevelopment is planned in at least two phases over the next few years. Once completed, the town will have up to 200,000 square feet of renovated or new redevelopment within the downtown core.

Plans call for renovating thousands of square feet of existing space, adding new buildings and infrastructure work to create retail and entertainment space, a medical office building, a grocery store and housing, along with outdoor public spaces between buildings.

The Putnam Block project "will create and support hundreds of jobs in this community," Scott said. "It will provide much needed housing and revitalize downtown Bennington and bring life to long-vacant upper floors of this building."

He added, "This is truly a joint effort that we're here to celebrate today. It shows what we can achieve when we work together and all pull in the same direction."

The periodic rumble or roar of trucks passing through the intersection of Routes 7 and 9 failed to discourage the small crowd, which often reacted with hearty applause during the brief sidewalk news conference.

The Bennington Redevelopment Group grew from stakeholder meetings less than two years ago with the aim of reviving the local economy. Participants included the Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College and Southern Vermont College, as well as prominent local individuals and business leaders.

The latter includes Anthony and Jacqueline Marro, Brian and Jennifer McKenna of DB McKenna & Co., and Dimitri Garder of Global Z International.

Bennington College President Mariko Silver described Thursday how the development group evolved with a mutual understanding that all of the organizations, businesses and residents of the area have a stake in the success of the local economy, which is "intimately intertwined" with the success of their own institutions.

Bennington Select Board Chairman Tom Jacobs said the downtown was seen as "in critical need of capital infusion in its central core"

He said the coalition of groups that formed decided that "we have got to invest. We've got to put our private dollars into what we've been talking about for years."

The $1 million Community Development Block Grant grant announced Thursday will go toward acquisition costs for the property and environmental remediation during Phase 1 of the Putnam project, said Bill Colvin, assistant director and community development program coordinator with the Bennington County Regional Commission, who has acted as point man for the redevelopment effort.

The first phase will focus on the area of the historic hotel, the former courthouse or Pennysaver building, and the Winslow building. Construction work is expected to begin in the fall, with occupancy expected by January 2019.

Plans call for seeking bids for the second project phase in the fall of 2018.

Chris Saunders, of Sen. Patrick Leahy's office and Megan Sullivan, of Rep. Peter Welch's office, were on hand to praise "the level of community engagement with this project," in Sullivan's words.

Saunders said Leahy sees the Putnam proposal as "a keystone project" for the area and for the state, and sees the federal Community Development Block Grant program as vital to such projects.

He said Leahy recently joined others in the Senate to protect the program from attempts by the Trump administration to cut funding.

The Putnam Block redevelopment is envisioned as merely the first step toward revitalization of the entire downtown, a change that would bring in more residential and business activity and have a positive ripple effect in coming years

One of the development tools the town hopes to employ is a Tax Increment Financing district encompassing the downtown and some surrounding sites. An application to the Vermont

Economic Progress Council for a TIF district is expected to be filed in the fall.

With a district in place, Bennington could borrow for infrastructure projects that would enhance or support private downtown investment projects and pay off the loans with a percentage of the new property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment.

Other aspects of the project financing plan include historic preservation, housing and other grants or tax credits, along with individual, business or other private investment support.

Permitting for the Putnam project will begin during a Sept. 5 Bennington Development Review Board meeting. Colvin said Thursday that the transfer of ownership from the current owners, the Greenberg family, remains incomplete but is progressing as expected with final paperwork being signed and approved.

More information about the project can be found at http://putnamblock.com

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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