Barre had a good day Wednesday. There was consensus that City Place, the vision of Mayor Thomas Lauzon, has become the springboard for the next stage of the city’s renaissance.
Despite the necessary glad-handing and photo ops with leaders in hard hats, Wednesday morning’s groundbreaking actually secured many of the city’s hopes and dreams for the near future. Concerns that City Place might not happen vaporized. The groundbreaking brought home not only how important the project is for Barre’s Main Street, it reiterated just how much Main Street remains the backbone of any viable community.
Gov. Peter Shumlin made a point of explaining how Barre’s reinvestment in its downtown — in such a profound way — was actually unique among developments taking place across the nation. He suggested Barre’s revitalization is the envy of other communities, many of which are hoping the model for progress can be re-created along other struggling Main Streets.
Shumlin praised Lauzon and city officials for their dogged pursuit to keep City Place in play; Lauzon praised Shumlin and state leaders for providing opportunities (including promises of jobs) and support. Praise was given to the building’s tenants, as well as the scores of individuals who made the bricks, mortar, steel and financing a reality. Politics certainly play a role in ventures of this magnitude, yet the right dealmakers were able to strike a balance for both the short and long term. It was obvious City Place was a win for all.
Now, over the next year and a half, the actual measure of the city’s success will be determined by the progress of the 80,000-square-foot City Place, which is scheduled to be completed in spring 2014. Its construction by DEW Properties LLC of Williston will stand as a daily reminder of how a community, a state, and countless citizens and leaders believed that a four-story building was the key to the economic development and long-term sustainability of a city that has spent too long looking down at its feet.
Lauzon used Wednesday’s ceremony to point to Barre’s growing community pride through a series of telling examples: the continued success of the granite industry; a series of recent building developments filling Main Street; the completion of the Big Dig; as well as the new campus for the Central Vermont Community Action Council. Each of these represents jobs, as does City Place, which points to economic growth and more development, vision and change.
Barre’s leaders would not take no for an answer. City Manager Steve Mackenzie and others kept the vision in line and on task. When obstacles — and there were many — were presented, the city showed the courage to come up with creative ways to proceed, be it through financing, planning or partnering.
Over these months, as everyone pointed out at the groundbreaking, everyone involved stepped up. Such determination requires faith not often associated with a multimillion-dollar project that has city, state and federal involvement, yet the stars and their courses were aligned perfectly.
While Barre still has much work to do to adjust its brand and change the stigma the rest of the state has plastered onto it, the pride and enthusiasm for the city’s potential, its continued renaissance, and the persuasive leadership that has seemingly turned the tide is something to be celebrated.
Shumlin is correct to suggest Barre has become an example for others to watch. In the face of a tough economy and some pretty incredible odds, Barre has taken the bold steps necessary to find its place.
On Wednesday that bold step was City Place.
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