BELLOWS FALLS -- The Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance recently announced its decision to name Mary Helen Hawthorne as its new executive director.
Hawthorne took over the job on Friday, June 7, succeeding Rosemarri Roth, who had spearheaded the organization for two years. BFDDA is made up of a group of downtown merchants dedicated to strengthening the local economy and making the village a better place to do business.
Hawthorne joins BFDDA with years of experience doing similar work. A resident of Springfield, she served 10 years as the downtown director of Springfield On The Move, an organization with a goal that mirrors that of BFDDA. She told the Reformer she worked indirectly with BFDDA over the years and is very familiar with its mission. She said she saw the job posting and was selected to be the new executive director following an interview process.
"I'm glad to get back into this arena. It's very challenging but very satisfying," Hawthorne said. "The downtown is the heart of the community."
Hawthorne said she looks forward to building on the work Roth did at BFDDA.
"I hope to really strengthen alliances between the (Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce) and the municipal government. We all want to get to the same end goal," she said. "And I'd like to expand membership. A lot of people don't know about us or how they can be helpful to businesses.
The executive director position is a part-time job and Hawthorne will be paid for 15 hours a week. The BFDDA office is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday from 10 a.m. until around 5 p.m, Hawthorne said.
Roth told the Reformer a few months ago she had decided the time was right to step down as director. She lives with her husband in Rockingham and said she is looking forward to spending more time at home and having a chance to see her grandchildren more often.
Roth has been a driving force behind a movement to get the Vilas Bridge reopened. The bridge connecting Bellows Falls to Walpole, N.H., was built around 1930 as a "Symbol of Friendship" between Vermont and New Hampshire. It was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009, and some citizens and merchants are frustrated that plans to repair or replace it had gotten pushed back.
At the time it was closed, a reported average of 4,600 vehicles crossed the structure every day and village residents say businesses are suffering because the traffic from Walpole has been cut off.
Roth and others in the community feel they have been slighted by New Hampshire, which they say has made promises about rehabilitating the bridge. According to a 1993 letter from Charles O'Leary, the then-commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation, to Nancy C. Muller, then the director and state preservation officer for the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, the Vilas Bridge would be removed under exceptional circumstances (natural disasters creating a serious safety hazard or another unforeseen situation) only.
But the 635-foot-long bridge was closed following a semiannual inspection that found continued deterioration of the reinforced bridge deck, according to a statement released by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation in March 2009.
But the Vilas Bridge has been added to the "Seven to Save" list of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. The Seven to Save list was created "to focus attention and resources on significant historic properties in New Hampshire that are threatened by neglect, deterioration, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, and/or insensitive public policy."
Though Roth said she will not stop advocating for the reopening of the bridge, she hopes Hawthorne continues the fight.
BFDDA President Katie Dearborn is stepping down but her successor was not elected at the organization's annual meeting (on Thursday, June 27), as was originally planned.
Hawthorne said BFDDA's first monthly meeting is set for Thursday.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.