BRANDON — For three days next week, the Vermont Downtown Action Team will be in town to assist Brandon in its continuing rebuilding efforts.
Part of that effort includes a community meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at the Brandon Congregational Church Fellowship Hall.
It’s an opportunity for residents to voice their opinion on what’s good about the town and what needs to improve in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
“It’s hugely important,” Stephen Beck, the town’s economic development officer, said Thursday. “The V-DAT team needs to know what the citizens, the businesses, residents, what they want in their downtown. They’re not coming in to tell us what to do. We’re going to tell them what we want and they’re going to figure out a way to do that.”
Beck said while the town has a good idea of what’s needed downtown, finding the financial resources to make those improvements happen is one area where V-DAT excels.
“It’s the ideas and the way to implement the ideas and the funding we can tap into to implement the ideas,” Beck said. “That’s the whole gist of this operation.”
He said those funding sources go beyond federal or state assistance and include community and private foundations.
Leanne Tingay, the state’s downtown program coordinator, said locating funding sources is critical, so the panel won’t be making any “pie in the sky” recommendations.
“There’s no point in doing any of these things unless you can identify sources,” said Tingay, who along with Richard Amore, state planning coordinator, will head the team coming to Brandon.
Although she can’t make any guarantees, Tingay said that from the beginning V-DAT vowed not to make any recommendation unless there is “a logical way to fund it and a reasonable way to fund it.”
For example, she said a second round of disaster recovery block grants will be available that could help Brandon and other downtowns.
V-DAT was created to initially help seven downtowns that sustained damage from the spring flooding of 2011 or from Tropical Storm Irene. The seven downtowns are Waterbury, Waitsfield, Warren, Barre, Brandon, Brattleboro, and Wilmington. An eighth downtown. Northfield, was recently added to the list.
Under the auspices of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the team of nine specialists is charged with preparing a master plan that includes:
Site reconnaissance visit and community assessment to prioritize the significant needs of the community.
Create a vision through community and stakeholder engagement for the revitalization and recovery of the downtown or village.
Develop a detailed and action-oriented revitalization master plan and implementation program tailored for the downtown.
Provide assistance with the implementation of the plan to ensure the vision is achieved.
The nine-member team arriving in Brandon includes experts from inside and outside the state in such areas as architecture, urban landscape design, economic development, branding and marketing, fundraising and nonprofit organization management.
“What I also like about this particular team is that they have had experience doing this,” Tingay said. “Several of the people have been through Hurricane Katrina recovery and even the BP oil spill recovery on the Mississippi and Louisiana coast.”
Beck said several downtown improvement projects come to mind: town office reconstruction, more downtown housing, and coping with the expected disruption caused by the Route 7 (Segment Six) project for two or three construction seasons.
“What kind of marketing could we do, what kind of branding could we do, that could bring people to Brandon during that process and still have it be a good experience for them,” Beck said.
He said another component is finding a way the business district could make Forest Dale residents feel more inclusive. He said there’s a sense that those residents often feel “disenfranchised.”
Other V-DAT events next week are scheduled to engage all segments of the community: property owners, small business owners and merchants, town officials and other interested parties.
The V-DAT team will follow up with a return visit to Brandon in the spring.
Based on the feedback he’s received, Beck said the targeted communities have come away feeling “empowered” by the experience.
The three-day event starting Monday is hosted by the Downtown Brandon Alliance, the organization charged with improving the downtown.
The event is funded by a federal grant administered by the Vermont Downtown Program.
The final presentation is scheduled for noon Wednesday at the Brandon Congregational Church Fellowship Hall.
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