NEWFANE -- True to its name, Newfane Anew is seeking revitalization of the entire town of Newfane.
That includes a focus on both commercial and cultural concerns, with members looking for ways to reverse a recent economic downturn while also improving the town's quality of life for residents and attractiveness for visitors.
Members of the volunteer organization also intend to work in all three of the town's villages and in both of its river valleys.
"We want to build some new bridges between the two sides of Newfane," said Newfane Anew member Chris Triebert. "No matter how you slice it, we are one town."
In large part, the question of Newfane's economic health spurred creation of Newfane Anew, which held its initial meetings last year.
There has been commercial stagnation -- with examples that include the closure of the Four Columns Inn last year and, farther back, the closure of stores in South Newfane and Williamsville -- along with the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene's flooding in August 2011.
Even the Newfane Business Association ceased to exist, with members citing a lack of participation and financial support.
But some see a golden chance to improve the town's fortunes. That is true of Bob McCandless, a relatively new Newfane resident who, along with his partner, is redeveloping the former Fieldstone Lodge.
"It's an exciting opportunity for us to have the chance to make a concerted effort to turn things around," McCandless said in an e-mail to the Reformer. "And even though I'm new to the area and have only lived here since April, I can honestly say that the enthusiasm I've seen with those involved with Newfane Anew makes me realize I made the absolute right decision to move here."
It is clear, though, that Newfane Anew does not have a strictly economic mission.
"We have some real challenges with the economy ... but we don't want to just focus on businesses," said Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli, who has been involved with the group.
"We also want to bring back that spirit, that vitality -- what makes people want to come to Newfane," Cristelli said.
To that end, the organization is pursuing an evolving list of ideas and projects. Last week, Triebert and McCandless approached Newfane Selectboard with one of those initiatives -- obtaining village-designation status through the state for the villages of Newfane, South Newfane and Williamsville.
"We as a group thought this was something we could take on," Triebert told the Selectboard, adding that the group has been advised in its work by Windham Regional Commission and Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.
Village designations would not interfere with Newfane's town plan, Triebert said, and they would not impose any requirements or limitations on homeowners.
"It's really the opposite -- it's to get money to help to do things," Triebert said.
That could include tax credits or state funding for initiatives like facade or sidewalk improvements, she said.
"Mostly what it means is that you have priority status in the state for applying for grants," Triebert said.
The group's village-designation work received preliminary endorsement from the Selectboard, which must approve the plan before it is sent to the state.
Cristelli said Newfane Anew also is playing a role in a plan to bring free Wi-Fi hot spots to Newfane through the Vermont Digital Economy Project. The first such hot spot will happen in Newfane Village, Cristelli said.
"Then we hope to have one in Williamsville and one in South Newfane," she said.
That ties in with the theme of village revitalization, a theme that McCandless says is "not unique to Newfane."
"Many other villages in our region face the same struggles to stay solvent while trying to maintain individual village integrity and uniqueness, so our efforts go beyond our borders and become part of a greater regional initiative," he wrote.
At the same time, though, Newfane Anew's focus is hyper-local -- right down to the holiday luminaries that graced Newfane Common at Christmas. The luminaries had been a Newfane Business Association project and were absent last year following the group's demise.
To keep such activities going, however, Newfane Anew will have to avoid the problem of dwindling participation that helped to doom the business association.
While Newfane Anew's current members "are primarily from the business sector," McCandless wrote, "we hope we will help put a plan into action to better our community by restoring and enhancing the lifeblood of activities that once was."
"Once our goals are afoot, we realize the importance of reaching out to all citizens of Newfane to step up to the plate to participate whether through sweat equity, financial support or participation of ideas and solutions to keep this process going," he added. "Because without their input -- without their contributions -- none of what we do will be able to sustain itself, because the core group will potentially face burnout."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.