In a plethora of ways Bennington is smack in the middle of a winning streak. Our Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is fully aligning with Dartmouth Hospital and is growing. Their addition is getting closer to completion with plans for a childcare center on the grounds of the former Southern Vermont College and perhaps a new $9.25 million state-funded inpatient youth psychiatric unit.
Downtown the first phase of the Putnam Block renovation is complete. The apartments are all occupied and the storefronts, while some remain vacant, have given us a very popular Coffee Bar, a successful new home for the Bennington Bookshop and an attractive new Gift Garden’s Holiday Cottage. Up the street there’s a new cannabis store, new breweries, the new Village Garage Distillery, the new 421 Restaurant etc. The almost completed new market will mean downtown will no longer be a food desert. It will enable folks living downtown to be able to walk to shop for groceries.
The Benn Hi project seems to be gaining momentum, preserving a community legacy building while creating space for Senior Center activities and much needed new apartments. The armory is being replaced with a new building outside of downtown and reutilized by Town Government for additional office space and other activities yet to be determined. There may be a new, desperately needed drug treatment center across from a planned new apartment complex on Depot Street.
The River Walkway is expanding. The Bennington Museum is planning a new building. The high school’s athletic field, while probably not everything many had hoped for, will certainly be greatly improved.
Marshalls is bringing us a new shopping option. Northside Drive will be adding a Starbucks and, apparently a Chipotle’s. We may sadly lose the bowling alley and gain a fourth carwash.
All of the above-mentioned activities, will bring everything from construction jobs to retail positions and more.
Government, local, state and federal, have participated in several of these additions. ARPA funds from the Feds have also helped some local not-for-profit arts organizations. The American Inflation Reduction Act is having the largest effect on cities and towns all over the country we haven’t seen since LBJ’s Great Society, if not FDR’s Great Depression-era Projects.
Entrepreneurs and for-profit corporations are spending large sums to construct many of these new enterprises. The world we live in now requires governments working with entrepreneurs to bring new life to downtowns whether the downtown be in a small town in Vermont or in the country’s largest city, New York.
One might expect that this avalanche of good news would bring not just smiles to local residents but real hope and optimism. But a check at social media tells a complicated story.
“Why do we need a Starbucks? We already got coffee places!”
“Another carwash? We need a skating rink.”
“It’s a shame to lose the bowling alley!”
“The Putnam Block is a disaster. They’ve still got empty storefronts!”
“Bennington is a dying town. Nothing will save it!”
“What about parking?”
Bowling alleys have been closing all over the country. In 2000 Robert D. Putnam wrote a best-selling book entitled “Bowling Alone, The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” Bowling teams had been part of the social structure, along with PTAs, civic clubs, churches, and synagogues. Attendance at all of them has fallen throughout the country. Locally we’re getting much more good news than bad.
Marshalls and Starbucks wouldn’t be coming to Bennington if they didn’t think they can make money here. They will be investing in new buildings after paying hundreds of thousands to purchase the land. Government investments have helped to make Bennington more attractive to a variety of businesses. The success of the Putnam Block is exhibit one of how progress attracts progress. There are so many reasons to be optimistic. Let’s build on the momentum!