• Barre Partnership: Important changes ahead
    July 01,2013

    By Dan Jones

    The conversation around the breakfast table at Maplecroft Bed & Breakfast Sunday morning was all about how nice Barre’s downtown looks and how vibrant it is becoming. As a downtown area business owner who caters to visitors to the area and as executive director of The Barre Partnership, that was music to my ears. And it made me remember that the change they were talking about does not happen by chance and involves the hard work and dedication of a number of people on a number of levels. Two of those people are Mary Jane Magnan and Amy White. Mary Jane and Amy recently stepped down from the Barre Partnership Board of Directors after many years of service to Barre and our downtown. Both have served as board president and have given countless behind-the-scenes hours to the downtown Barre area community. Most recently Mary Jane served as coordinator of our We Dig Barre initiative and deserves a special “thank you” for her leadership during a challenging time for our community. Their leadership and dedication will be missed.

    As Mary Jane and Amy step down, six new people are joining the board. Each brings with them the experience, expertise and connections that will prove invaluable as we take our efforts on behalf of the downtown Barre area to a higher level. Jeff Friot brings with him experience on the Barre City Planning and Zoning Board as well as the Budget and Finance Committee and Housing Board of Review, not to mention his job at Rock of Ages, one of the pillars of our community. Martha Englert brings a strong background in community development and her important position as Deputy Director of the Central Vermont Community Land Trust. Josh Jerome provides valuable knowledge and experience as a nonprofit lender with Community Capital of Vermont, which provides capital to startup and existing business enterprises. Hillary Montgomery brings a 10-year career in nonprofit administration and fundraising, which will assist us in securing funding for a variety of important projects going forward. Lucas Herring comes to the board while serving as a Barre City Councilor and Barre Supervisory Union board member in addition to his full-time job as an I.T. manager. And finally Claire Duke brings with her an infectious love of her community and her downtown, a long career in real estate, most currently with Claire Duke Real Estate, a history of community involvement with the Barre Rotary Club, and current service on the Barre Town Planning Commission.

    Together with our continuing board members — Bob Nelson, Mike Lannen, Annette Boisvert, Denise McBride, Bob Sager, Julianne Monty, and Mollie Brault-Binaghi — our new members allow us to effectively tackle important challenges including strengthening and improving our downtown’s economic assets, enhancing and improving the physical appearance of our downtown, and creating and marketing a positive image of our downtown and the surrounding area, attracting people to socialize, shop, dine, and enjoy our local arts and history. We are fortunate at this important time in Barre’s revitalization to be recipients of federal community development grant monies provided to downtowns affected by either the “spring flood” of 2011 or Hurricane Irene, to assist with economic development initiatives. The grant, managed by the Vermont Downtown Program, will provide us with a professionally developed “Action-Oriented Revitalization Plan” for our community. At the end of the year-long process which began in June we will have a road map for both the short and long term that will allow the Barre Partnership to assist in the management of our downtown’s revitalization going forward.

    In the meantime there are a number of important initiatives to begin working on. In order to effectively implement the items to be included in the revitalization plan, strong fundraising and volunteer recruitment structures need to be established. Plans need to be developed to appropriately welcome the approximately 500 new people who will be working in our downtown within the next six months, making sure every one of them, despite any reservations some of them may have, will soon be spreading the word about how Barre is a great place to work, live and spend time. It is also time to begin building important collaborations. One of those collaborations is with the Barre Cultural Alliance, a newly formed partnership of our many important cultural and historical assets, which will allow us as a community to effectively increase tourism to the Barre area and our downtown.

    A recent online survey conducted by the Barre Partnership showed that an overwhelming majority of people in the Barre area recognize that our downtown is “improving.” That may not sound like a ringing endorsement of everything that is happening in our downtown at this time, but compared to the comments I heard when I moved to Barre a little over four years ago, it is quite a turnaround. And I am confident that it will only get better.

    Dan Jones is executive director of The Barre Partnership.

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