When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
That timeless adage is at work right here in Windham County with the revitalization efforts going on in Brattleboro and Wilmington. Both towns have been struggling these last few years because of the economy, the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene and a myriad of other problems.
But instead of wallowing in self pity and sitting back to watch their communities decline even further, both towns are seeking out all available resources -- including those made possible by the very flood that devastated their downtown areas -- to rejuvenate their infrastructures and boost their potential for recovery and growth.
As part of that effort both towns are seeking the expertise of Arnett and Muldrow Associates, a Downtown Action Team that was hired as part of a grant drawing from Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds. And both towns are holding meetings this week to lay the groundwork for their respective downtown revitalization efforts.
In Brattleboro, representatives from the Action Team spent all day Monday meeting with town officials and property owners. And Monday evening about 50 people showed up at the Latchis Theater to talk about their visions for the town's future. They talked about restoring the "Little Liver Pills" mural on Elliot Street, the Main Street clock, the River Garden, Brooks House, Municipal Building and Wells Fountain. They also talked about opening up Brattleboro's riverside, getting large trucks off of Main Street, creating 1,500 well-paying jobs, fixing malfunction junction, lowering the sales tax and upgrading the substandard housing.
The group plans to issue a final report today at 10 a.m., at the Latchis Theater, to give the town realistic ideas for the town to begin to tackle, as well as longer-range projects that would take more resources to complete.
As soon as that meeting is over representatives from Arnett and Muldrow will head over to Wilmington to repeat the same process there. A public forum will be held today at 5 p.m. at Memorial Hall for the community to engage in the planning process. Property owners are strongly encouraged to attend. The firm will also be holding individual meetings with different groups in town to discuss market assessment, branding, marketing, design, planning and implementation strategies. Another meeting will be held at noon on Friday at Memorial Hall to go over the firm's recommendations.
Wilmington Economic Development Specialist Gretchen Havreluk said Arnett and Muldrow will be looking at "the full scope of facades, how to help businesses and how to fill vacant buildings."
We are encouraged by what has come out of the Brattleboro meetings so far, and we implore the folks in Wilmington to be equally engaged in the process so they can have a frank discussion on what problems the town faces and brainstorm on possible solutions.
"It was a productive sharing of information on the strengths of the downtown and of the challenges we face," said Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein. "We look forward to their report and recommendations."
So do we.