The Brattleboro Co-op (Reformer photo)
The Brattleboro Co-op (Reformer photo)
Thursday November 29, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- The Environmental Protection Agency recognized on Wednesday the Brattleboro Food Co-op for the construction of its new building in downtown Brattleboro.

Brattleboro was one of seven towns and cities that were recognized for their efforts to invest in existing communities and to build prosperous, sustainable neighborhoods near jobs, shops and schools.

"I'm very proud. We all are," said John Hatton, who has been the Co-op board chairman for the past seven years. "A lot of thought and community input went into this whole project. The award is about the community, the shareholders and the Co-op itself."

The four winners and three honorable mentions were selected from a pool of 47 applicants from 25 states.

The winning entries were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and non-profit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.

The Brattleboro Food Co-op was the winner of the Main Street and Corridor Revitalization award.

Lucinda Alcorn, who has been nominated to be the next chairwoman of the board and has been a shareholder since 1997, said she was very happy to learn the Co-op was being recognized for its new building and its impact on the community.

"It's wonderful that the Co-op is being recognized for being a community supported store, because the Co-op represents what's best about Brattleboro," said Alcorn.

"As the only downtown food store, the Brattleboro Food Co-op was faced with the difficult decision of moving to less expensive space outside of town or creating a new building on site that was big enough to accommodate the store's expansion," stated the press release announcing the awards. "The Co-op made a strong commitment to stay at its downtown location. The result is an innovative four-story green building on Main Street with a grocery store, commercial space, offices, and affordable apartments. In addition to offering classes on nutrition, the Co-op puts healthy food, new jobs, and housing within walkable distances of downtown and public transit."

Co-op General Manager Alex Gyori said it wasn't until about a decade ago when the shareholders of the Co-op realized how important the store was to downtown.

"In 2002, when we actually seriously considered moving out of downtown because we were out of space and out of options, the community was very adamant," said Gyori. "They told us to stay downtown. That was the first time we realized we had grown into a business that was extremely important to the economic vitality of our downtown."

Up until that point, he said, for many people involved in the Co-op, it was a community of folks interested in organic and natural foods and making a statement about how foods should be purchased and purveyed.

"We didn't realize that the Co-op had grown to such an important level in the community," said Gyori. "After the 2002 wake-up call, we proactively started to get involved in the community."

The new building extends the main drag from the Kyle Gilbert Memorial Bridge to the intersection of Canal Street and South Main Street, said Gyori.

And working with the Windham Windsor Housing Trust to include two floors with 24 affordable housing apartments above the two floors occupied by the Co-op made the project even more of a vital addition to downtown, he said.

"This is part of the streetscape of Brattleboro and the way it used to be at one time," said Gyori.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2002 to recognize exceptional approaches to development that protect the environment, encourage economic vitality, and enhance quality of life.

In the past 11 years, 54 winners from 26 states have shown a variety of approaches that states, regions, cities, suburbs, and rural communities can use to create economically strong, environmentally responsible development.

"The Smart Growth Achievement awards honor towns and cities making the kinds of investments that will pay long-term dividends for economic growth and their residents' quality of life," stated Smart Growth America President and CEO Geoffrey Anderson in a press release. "In big cities and small towns alike, these places are transforming neighborhoods into vibrant, thriving places to raise a family. And in rural areas, we are seeing a tremendous energy to protect productive farmlands and to drive local economies forward amid population and demographic changes."

Smart growth strategies affect economies, the environment, transportation choices and housing markets, stated Anderson.

The Smart Growth Achievement awards will be presented at an awards ceremony on Dec. 5, in Washington, D.C.

Other winners of the award included the BLVD Transformation Project in Lancaster, Calif., for Overall Excellence; Destination Porstmouth in Virginia for Programs and Policies; and the Mariposa District in Denver, Colo., for Equitable Development.

Honorable mentions included Northwest Gardens, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for Equitable Development; Larkin District, Buffalo, N.Y., for Main Streets and Corridor Revitalization; and Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, San Francisco, Calif., for Programs and Policies.

For more information visit, www.smartgrowthamerica.org.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.