• Downtown reinvestment strategy yields results
    January 06,2014

    In the summer of 2011, Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power announced they were merging into one utility company, thus becoming the largest power provider in the state of Vermont. At the time of the merger, GMP stressed their desire to become a vital part of the Rutland area. In an effort to demonstrate their commitment, GMP laid out a number of proposals designed to benefit the Rutland area with a strong focus on downtown Rutland.

    One of these initiatives was a gift of $100,000 to the Downtown Rutland Partnership to assist in revitalization efforts. The purpose of this gift was to create a pool from which business and economic development projects could be funded. Other than that all-encompassing description, GMP allowed the Downtown Rutland Partnership to develop a plan to disperse the funds. Out of this unique opportunity, and through the foresight of the DRP, a three-pronged approach for the utilization of these funds was created.

    First, $10,000 was set aside to be used toward the Marble Valley Regional Transit Center on West Street. This underutilized asset located in the middle of the downtown district is now under local control after several years of hard work by partners in both local and state government. The DRP’s contribution toward this effort underscores our commitment to creating a functional, sensible and robust solution to parking downtown. Second, the DRP earmarked $60,000 to develop a target business recruitment fund to assist in attracting specific businesses downtown. The third strategy was the creation of a Facade Grant Improvement Fund. Initially, the Downtown Rutland Partnership allocated $30,000 to fund this program; however, by the end of  his past summer, the success of the program was having a profound effect throughout the downtown. Our hope was to have an instant and dramatic effect on how downtown looked. We believed there were many opportunities throughout the downtown in which properties needed a facelift. We hoped, that given the right financial incentives, property and business owners would invest their own capital to improve their storefronts.

    After the initial $30,000 had been expended, our board of directors approved the addition of $10,000 to this program to provide funding for several more projects.

    By the end of 2013, the program had assisted a total of 10 different projects on seven different streets within the downtown. Since this was a 50/50 matching grant program designed to encourage businesses to invest their own funds, the minimum total investment was $80,000. This dollar-for-dollar match not only dramatically improved the image of storefronts in the downtown, but these dollars also trickled down to many contractors and local businesses that performed the work on the projects.

    The real magic of this program was the direct investment by private property and business owners. In many cases, the grants encouraged business and property owners to take the initiative to further improve their buildings.

    One need only take a walk down Strongs Avenue to see this result. Property owner and businessman Joe Giancola received a $5,000 facade improvement grant for his property located at 52 Strongs Avenue. After completing the exterior work, Mr. Giancola decided to make extensive interior renovations. By the project’s end, Mr. Giancola had invested an impressive $50,000 into the space.

    A similar story can be told of properties just down the street at 48 Strongs Ave., the former Philippo’s Dry Cleaner building. Just two years ago this building was in disrepair with boarded up windows and a crumbling facade — most definitely a blight in the neighborhood. After receiving one of the grants, the property owner not only replaced the front windows and cornice, but also painted the building with a vibrant new color and has begun interior work in order to create two separate storefronts.

    Indeed, these projects have created a ripple effect; other properties are being repaired, repainted and spruced up. Capping off the Strong’s Avenue reinvestment, the DRP, with help from the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, secured a downtown transportation grant to help fund new sidewalks and street lights along Madison Street. The DRP, seeing the opportunity to further beautify this corner of downtown, also helped pay for the burying of utility lines along the small stretch of road. All told, between private funds, Rutland City and the DRP facade program, close to $250,000 has been invested to improve an important gateway into the downtown.

    Other success stories from the façade improvement grant program can be reported on West Street. MKF Properties has made significant investments and improvements to their properties known as the Shops at Gryphon Square. This is now home to a diverse mix of retail businesses, including Small Dog Electronics, The Bakery, Cape Air Airlines, Fruition Fineries and the Bookmobile. The grants that the Downtown Partnership awarded improved two of the Gryphon Square businesses. These facade grants leveraged the significant investment made by MKF Properties. These beautification projects supported by the facade grants are intended to encourage new businesses and assist existing businesses to continue to thrive.

    It is my belief that the Downtown Rutland Partnership has utilized the GMP funds in the best way possible to maximize the visual appeal of our downtown buildings and businesses. In less than two years, the total investment is staggering: Close to $600,000 has been invested to facilitate improvements to buildings, public infrastructure and the overall aesthetics of downtown Rutland.

    As executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, I am proud to celebrate this development through a public/private investment strategy brought forth by the facade improvement program.

    Michael Coppinger is executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership.

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