In the last few months, behind the scenes, Barre leaders have been positioning themselves deftly for a resurgence in the Granite City.
All of these contributions are signs that the city is no longer looking at its feet, blaming itself for this and that.
Quite the contrary.
First, while the city budget exercise required three tries to get the public’s support, it made for a leaner budget. It raised the level of debate about what the city’s priorities are, and it made our leaders — from the elected officials to the department heads — all accountable for their decisions and roles. City Hall, the mayor, the City Council and the city manager had to make the hard decisions to begin to move Barre forward.
Second, the business community is not constantly lamenting the Big Dig. On the other hand, most downtown merchants are celebrating its arrival and pointing up the street to the quick progress that Luck Brothers is making. The first signs — granite curbing, cutouts, sidewalks — are just the preview everyone needs to build on the community pride that grows with each day closer to October when the project is behind us and a new Main Street stands ready for everyone to enjoy.
And those doubting Thomases out there may complain about the disruption, but they are enchanted and eager at news of businesses courting the city, including prospective grocery stores for the first floor of City Place, a new restaurant for the Aldrich Block, rumored tenants for the old five and dime on Main Street (which really would be perfect for an antiques mall), and a pending sale of the Lash Furniture building. If all the stars and their courses align, that would represent a full downtown once the Big Dig is done. No one could ask for a better way to celebrate a facelift.
Third, despite the Big Dig, the Heritage Festival and Homecoming Days is moving forward full steam. The acts are booked. The parade is a go. Likewise, other events, including another summertime cycling extravaganza, are being looked at to draw more people to Barre. The Barre Partnership is reaching out in new ways to build on the city’s assets while dispelling misperceptions. The strides being taken are smart, bold and in the right vein: Look ahead to the vibrancy of downtown. It is smart marketing and branding.
Fourth, the Barre Cultural Alliance, a group represented by the city’s notable cultural resources — including Rock of Ages, Studio Place Arts, the Barre Opera House, Aldrich Public Library, the Vermont History Center and more — also is not waiting for the Big Dig to conclude before starting to think about new ways to get people to Barre. Its members are acting now, and with smart marketing, thoughtful discussions and their own bold vision toward what Barre can offer. They are not just thinking about a visitor here or there; the alliance members are looking at attracting bus tours, more schoolchildren and families to their organization and this city.
Fifth, while locally the real estate market is not booming, it is far from a bust. High-profile homes that have been sitting idle for years are being bought, fixed and even resold. Those sales have not gone unnoticed by city leaders eager to point to Barre as a place to start a family, buy a home and join a community. The economy may be slow, but the interest rates are attractive enough to open new doors of opportunity to buyers.
The discussions in meetings around Barre, while not firm today, are generating fresh momentum. There are talks about downtown tours and concerts, festivals and celebrations, marketing blitzes and advertising campaigns. There is talk of special Barre-centric publications, a higher-profile visitors center, and even broader partnerships.
City Place and the potential development of the former Lash building guarantee a surge of workers, shoppers and foot traffic to downtown. Those were gambles that seem to be paying off as wise investments for the future. We all benefit from those particular returns.
It is Barre’s time.
The ideas that the Granite City’s leaders are coming up with to make Barre more vibrant, more viable and more visionary will grow the community pride.
Change comes slowly, and too slowly for the impatient. But the right people seem to be looking up and toward a brighter future, not down at the dirt anymore.
Change really is upon Barre, and by all measures, it is big.
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