Construction to Begin on Bennington’s Putnam Block
Bennington Redevelopment Group (BRG) held a ground breaking ceremony last week to celebrate the start of construction on the $31 million revitalization of Phase I of the historic Putnam Block in downtown Bennington. Phase I will transform three historic buildings at the Four Corners into a vibrant urban hub. Vermont Governor Phil Scott, Congressman Peter Welch, project funders, investors and supporters, among many others, attended the event next to the Oldcastle Theatre at 331 Main Street.
Phase I includes the redevelopment of the historic Hotel Putnam, Old Courthouse and Winslow Building, and encompasses demolition, environmental cleanup and the creation of parking and mixed-use office, residential and retail space. When completed, Phase I will include 78,000 square feet of renovated space and 30 new market rate and income-qualified apartments.
“The conversation about the Putnam Block Redevelopment Project has a long history but really gained momentum in 2016,” said Jim Brown, president and CEO of The Bank of Bennington. “We watched our Main Street empty out with vacant store fronts and upper stories. Our businesses struggled to not only attract workers but retain the ones they had. It became obvious to us that the only way to reverse our negative trend was to be bold and invest in ourselves – the community and its future generations – by reimaging the downtown.”
Community and civic leaders, institutions and inspired individuals banded together to create the Bennington Redevelopment Group, with the express goal of revitalizing Bennington’s downtown. Members include The Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College, 4 Putt Properties, Tony and Jackie Marro, M&S Development, Sheela Harden, Elizabeth Harden, Dimitri Garder, Brian and Jennifer McKenna, Deborah Wiley and Ira Wagner, who seized on the Putnam Block as the catalytic key to their new initiative. “This project demonstrates what’s possible when a community with a vision and determination comes together to revitalize the heart of their downtown,” stated Tom Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Center. “I am incredibly proud of what this group and this town have been able to achieve thus far, and grateful to all of our partners for helping to get this project to where it is today.”
With the support of the BRG, the Bennington County Industrial Corporation (BCIC), the local non-profit regional economic development corporation (RDC), purchased from the Greenberg family nearly all the buildings and land which make up the Putnam Block. With federal funding from the EPA through the Windham Regional Commission and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, BCIC then undertook the Brownfields environmental cleanup necessary to ready the properties for private ownership, which would place the property back in service.
The Putnam Block Redevelopment Project is intended to act as a catalyst for economic and community development in southern Vermont and to serve as a replicable model for rural downtowns throughout the state. “Across rural America, we are watching as our downtowns are challenged by demographic shifts. Vermont is no different,” said Secretary Michael Schirling of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. “We look for creative solutions to enable our communities to remain vibrant or experience a resurgence. The Putnam Block Redevelopment Project provided a solution for Bennington through community-led development. Businesses, institutions, citizens came together to act as developers to reinvigorate their downtown and shape its future, and their own.”
The project is working with Stevens & Associates as lead design professionals and Bread Loaf Corporation as lead construction managers. The BRG hopes to have Phase I ready for occupancy by late 2020. About 70 percent of the space in Phase I is leased, and 30 percent of the 30 apartments are spoken for. The BRG is now planning for and funding Phase II, which will consist of a newly constructed building intended to house additional retail spaces, offices, housing and much needed medical and training facilities. A future third phase, for which land has been banked with Housing Vermont, a nonprofit housing developer, will develop an additional 30 housing units.