BENNINGTON — Phase 2 of the Putnam Block redevelopment plan “has a ways to go” to reach the permit application stage, but the main participants remain optimistic and eyeing a construction start in 2024.
“We were definitely slowed down by COVID,” said Robert Stevens, president of M&S Development, which is overseeing the building design and putting together a financing package for the work — estimated to cost in the $40 million range.
The pandemic, which played a lead role in soaring construction costs, inflation, and more recently rising interest rates, forced the developers to shift into a lower gear, Stevens said.
The development group of partners for Phase 2 – called Putnam Community Health, LLC – had estimated last spring a 2023 construction start and occupancy in 2024.
Yet despite the delays, Stevens said this week the developers remain optimistic that the plan is still viable financially, and they’ve continued working on a final design, raising capital and putting together a financing package.
One reason the project is considered still viable despite inflation and higher rates is because of a continued strong demand for housing in Bennington, Stevens said.
“We are excited about moving this forward,” he said.
As with Phase 1, financing is expected to include a mix of tax credits, state and federal grant funds and private investment.
Work during the $32.5 million Phase 1 – also overseen by M&S Development – focused on redeveloping three historic downtown buildings at the Four Corners intersection for commercial space and housing.
The centerpiece of the next phase will be a new five-story building with health care services, retail space and 45 to 60 units of housing.
The anchor tenant will be Southwestern Vermont Health Care for medical services associated with the health care organization.
SVHC President and CEO Thomas Dee said Thursday, “Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is excited to be an anchor tenant in the Phase 2 of the Putnam Project and to have a downtown presence in the future. We are still working through our planning process to determine the most appropriate services to include in the new building.”
According to a preliminary filing this month with the Act 250 Commission, the plan calls for a multi-story building stretching approximately from the corner of Washington Avenue and West Main Street to near the Bennington Performing Arts Center.
As described in the recent filing, in which the developers are seeking clarification on environmental or other permits that will be required under an Act 250 review, the Phase 2 work will “demolish existing structures on the property and then build a 5-story, 88,000 square feet, mixed use building with parking lot. The first floor will consist of healthcare facilities (dialysis center and walk-in clinic) and retail establishments. The top four floors will be housing. Three floors will be for rent and the top floor will be for sale.”
Structures that would be razed include the Martin’s Mini Mart gas station/convenience store at 301 Main St., bordering on Washington Avenue.
That project description is similar to what the developers provided last spring, along with an image of how the building might look on the four-acre Putnam Block parcel.
As anticipated, the health care facilities would be associated with SVHC and health care partners, Stevens said, adding that the developers have a memorandum of understanding with the organization concerning the project.
Stevens said the current timeframe for having a final design to submit for permitting is six to nine months.
Other work on the Putnam Block will begin earlier, however. A request for proposals for environmental work on the four-block site is seeking a contractor to do additional remedial excavation work.
Work to be funded with a grant through the federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to begin in May or June. State environmental agencies have signed off on a corrective action plan for the work, which follows similar work in Phase 1 to remediate contaminated soils stemming from past uses of the property or nearby sites in the downtown.
William Colvin, who is acting as the project point-person for Putnam Community Health, LLC, said Thursday, “There was a $500,000 EPA grant secured by [Bennington County Industrial Corp.] to assist with the cleanup. Total remediation on the site (Phase 1 and 2) will be around $2,000,000.”
BCIC has been integrated into the Bennington Regional Planning Commission, which Colvin heads as executive director. The entity is the nominal owner of the Putnam Block parcels during the redevelopment stages, in part because it qualifies for certain grant funding not available to a private firm.
Beyond the Phase 2 building and site work, the long-range plan calls for a Phase 3 with additional housing along Washington Avenue at the rear of the Putnam Block, on a site once occupied by the H. Greenberg & Son lumber yard.
Phase 1 work redeveloped the historic former Bennington County Courthouse building, the adjacent former Hotel Putnam and the Winslow Building for commercial space and housing units.