20191026_bta_Taylor Street

Visitors tour the new Montpelier Transit Center and Taylor Street Apartments Friday during a community celebration for the new building in downtown Montpelier.

MONTPELIER — A new gateway to the Capital City was hailed at the grand opening of the Taylor Street Transit Center and housing complex on Friday.

Two decades in the making, political and civic leaders gathered with more than 100 people to celebrate the opening, tour the transit center and upstairs apartments, take in scenic views of the riverfront and downtown, and enjoy live music and food offerings.

Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet Housing and Community Development praised its partnership with Housing Vermont and the city of Montpelier on the project. Other partners include Green Mountain Transit, contractors DEW Construction in Williston, and Gossans Bachman Architects in Montpelier.

“Today is a big deal for Montpelier,” Peltier said. “And it’s been a long journey to get here.”

Peltier noted that the city and the state had seen a marked increase in homelessness and stressed the need to strengthen communities to address the problem.

“The Taylor Street apartments and the French Block apartments on Main Street that opened in January are certainly a part of the solution,” Peltier said. “This is a big step forward to end homelessness,” she added.

Other speakers and included Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Mayor Anne Watson; Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser; Kathy Beyer, vice president for development at Housing Vermont; Gus Seelig of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board; Maura Collins, of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency; Josh Hanford, of the Community Development Program; and representatives of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

Welch contrasted the gridlock in Washington, D.C., with the importance of working together.

“This is impossible to achieve, and here it is,” he said, referring to the collaboration that created the project.

“This could not have happened without a lot of people deciding they had to work together,” he added, noting the work of Leahy and former Sen. Jim Jeffords, who secured $7 million in federal funding for the transit center, and funding from state agencies.

Watson credited the work of the city to work on housing initiatives and redevelopment of the parking lot and the riverfront.

“This is an entrance to our city, this is a gateway, this is where some people may be taking their first steps into Montpelier, where we have a chance to make a first impression with visitors,” Watson said. “I’m also delighted that the 30 apartments in this building are going to be permanently affordable. And, in addition, this building is not heated with any fossil fuels, which I think is just remarkable.”

Fraser also said the opening was “a big day” for the city that would also create a shared-use path through the city, a new bridge crossing the North Branch river and a proposed Confluence Park on the site.

“The transformation from junkyard, gravel parking lot and back alley out of town into a modern community center and downtown gateway will hopefully be completed in the near future with the addition of a new hotel and parking facility,” he said, referring to plans for a Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel and public parking garage on land nearby – projects that are being held up by legal appeals.

“This work represents a new era of downtown residency and transportation options. This center will improve both transit and interstate bus travel, allow for future rail opportunities and increased pedestrian and bicycling options,” he added.

Beyer described the project as “visionary” because its location above a transit center meant that residents would be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint if they could walk or cycle downtown or catch a bus, without having to drive themselves.

The housing component of the project features 30 apartments that include six studio units, 18 one-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom apartments, 11 of which will be market-rate units and the remainder affordable housing.

Apartments in the building all featured black-stained wood floors, black kitchen appliances and warm, honey-toned cabinet wood finishes. Each floor also had a laundry room and a room with locked cage storage units.

Chris Rice said he was among the first residents to move into an apartment on the first floor, overlooking the Taylor Street bridge.

Rice said he previously lived in an apartment on Barre Street and appreciated still being close to the downtown.

“They did a very nice job with the construction,” Rice said. “It’s solid, it’s efficient. They’ve got solar panels on the roof and they did a nice job with all the windows and all the natural light coming in. And each unit has its own heat pump so you can have AC or heating – everything is included under one price.”

Jon Moore, interim manager of Green Mountain Transit, was on hand to brief visitors in the still-vacant transit center waiting room.

“We’re hoping to open as soon as November 25, which is the week of Thanksgiving,” Moore said. “This will be the main facility for downtown Montpelier. Based on some public feedback, the Montpelier Hospital Hill route will continue to serve Shaw’s, just so folks have direct access to a grocery store. But everything else will essentially be operating out of this facility and be the main transfer hub.”

Funding for the $12.5 million transit center included grants from the Federal Transit Administration ($1.9 million); Federal Highway Administration ($5.3 million); Vermont Agency of Transportation Surface Transportation Program ($1.25 million); Environmental Restoration Program ($250,000); Estimated Sales Tax Reallocation ($138,000); and city of Montpelier funds, bond and capital improvement project funds ($2.7 million).

Working in partnership, Housing Vermont and Downstreet secured funding totaling over $7.7 million from numerous sources. Over $4 million was invested by People’s United Bank through the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency). Housing Vermont and Downstreet were able to secure an additional $2 million of a $37 million housing bond approved by Gov. Phil Scott in 2017 to build affordable housing in the state.

stephen.mills

@timesargus.com

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