BRATTLEBORO -- In many ways, downtown Brattleboro has been recovering ever since the morning of Aug. 29, 2011, when the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene caused significant damage throughout town.
Some businesses are still feeling the effects of the storm, or they never re-opened, and like other communities around the state that were affected by the storm, Brattleboro is trying to rebuild, while at the same time, prepare for the next natural disaster.
On Monday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m. at the Latchis Theater, Building a Better Brattleboro will help lead a community discussion on revitalizing the downtown and preparing for another storm. BABB is working with a group of architects, planners and economic development and housing specialists that the state helped put together to take an overall look at the downtown and come up with plans and strategies to help strengthen the downtown business climate.
BABB will hold a number of meetings with the Downtown Action Team, which has been put together by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, but the meeting Monday is for the public to weigh in on the strengths and challenges of downtown Brattleboro.
"We want to know what people like about downtown and what people would like to see changed," said BABB Vice President Kate O'Connor.
Along with the public meeting Monday afternoon the group will meet with merchants, nonprofit organizations, property owners and town officials. Then the group will present its finding in the form of a final report on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 10 a.m. at the Latchis.
At the meeting Monday, O'Connor said the group will want to hear about everything from what stores or businesses might be needed downtown to what the public thinks about the streetlights and about the parking.
Even though Monday's meeting is being held directly to address the downtown business climate post-Irene, O'Connor says Brattleboro finds itself in a pivotal time in other ways with work going on at the Brooks House, the River Garden changing hands, long-time chamber director Jerry Goldberg leaving at the end of the year and the upcoming establishment of two new, downtown college campuses.
O'Connor hopes the new downtown report will give Brattleboro an extra tool to move forward.
"This will help not only BABB, but we hope it will get the whole community to rally around the downtown," she said.
She said the meeting Monday is for residents as well as anyone who lives outside of Brattleboro but who regularly uses the downtown.
"This is a community meeting and they want people to come out to talk about what they like and what they would like to see in downtown," said O'Connor. "Everyone has a different perspective and they want to hear everything, not just the good stuff."
Leanne Tingay, Vermont's downtown program coordinator, said groups similar to the Downtown Action Team have done work around the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding for the program as part of the state's disaster recovery.
The group that is coming to Brattleboro held similar meetings in Waterbury and Barre and will also visit Wilmington and Brandon.
"Towns like Wilmington and Brattleboro are still struggling to have their economies come back and we are trying to come up with ways to go further," said Tingay. "We know it is a not a matter of if we get another storm, but when, and hopefully we can rebuild smarter so we are ready."
O'Connor said she hopes the plan will give the town, its property owners and merchants some new ideas.
"These people have been to communities that have been hurt all over the country and they have expertise. Sometimes it's good to get people from outside to come and give a fresh perspective," O'Connor said. "It's never too late to give people help."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.