Recent construction projects include car dealerships

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BENNINGTON — New car dealership buildings are few and far between in Bennington, but just last year the town saw four construction projects for car dealerships.

Bennington Subaru built a new facility on North Bennington Road. Carbone Honda Bennington put up its own store on North Bennington Road after moving out of the location it was sharing with Carbone Toyota of Bennington. Toyota is now renovating that building. And Stephens Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Bennington is revamping a retail space on Northside Drive, which will become its new home.

Last year, the town hall issued 195 building permits, which altogether had a declared construction cost of $9.7 million, according to data from Bennington's building and zoning department.

Having four auto dealership projects in one year is unusual, said Bennington Planning Director Dan Monks, adding that this probably happens "once in every 20 years." He attributed the trend to a recent growth in motor vehicle purchases.

"We came out of the recession, there was a kind of boom in car sales and there was apparently money to be invested in car sales," said Monks, who serves also as assistant town manager. "I think it's more a reflection of the national health of the car industry."

Toyota was issued a building permit last year and the other three dealerships in 2017, when the town approved 204 building permit requests. The projects permitted in 2017 amounted to around $47.6 million in construction cost - the most in recent years.

This amount includes costs related to the Putnam Block redevelopment project, Monks said. The planned $54 million redevelopment, around the Four Corners intersection, will demolish various blighted buildings and renovate approximately 55,000 square feet of space in the historic former Hotel Putnam, Courthouse and Winslow buildings.

Residential units, retail and office spaces will be constructed across all three buildings, and new buildings are planned on the four-acre site in a second project phase. Construction work on the redevelopment is anticipated to begin this year.

"That is a huge project for Bennington, not just because of the cost or value, but because of its significance to the downtown," Monks said. "This is definitely the biggest in downtown, by far, in decades."

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Every year, the most expensive building work are either commercial or institutional projects, such as those by the hospital or colleges, he added.

The total estimated construction cost for projects permitted last year was the lowest since 2013, when the figure was nearly $8 million. When asked what the lower dollar volume in 2018 signifies, Monks said the town's building and zoning department doesn't interpret these dollar-figure ups and downs. But he noted that "construction is only one part of the economy, and it varies widely from year to year because one large project — or lack of a large project — can dramatically impact the numbers."

Residential construction or renovation projects make up a significant number of building permits issued each year. Several dozens of these projects were permitted in 2017 and 2018, including single family dwellings, mobile homes and residential additions.

Because of the higher cost of building a home than revamping an existing one, the Bank of Bennington has seen more people choosing to renovate in the last several years, said Shannon McLenithan, the bank's senior vice president for residential lending. The bank, headquartered in Bennington, also has offices in Arlington, Manchester and Rutland.

McLenithan said purchases of existing homes, including those sold at foreclosures, have steadily risen since the recession as more properties were placed on the market. On the other hand, new home purchases dipped in 2009, following the recession, and they started going up minimally only in the last couple of years.

"The housing market the way that it is," McLenithan explained, "the fair market value of that newly built home is less than the cost to actually build it."

Some community members have chosen to build, she said, because homes on the market have now become more limited as properties have been sold off.

Last year, the Bennington Town Hall issued about 12 permits for the construction of new homes and 44 for home renovations or additions.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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