Harmony Place: Downtown Brattleboro park plans unveiled

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Photo Gallery | Demolition of the old Mama Puduzzis / Frankie's Pizza

BRATTLEBORO — Frankie Vakaros watched as people armed with sledge hammers began taking down the walls of his old building Tuesday.

The act was more symbolic than anything. Real demolition started the next day.

"I want to thank all the customers for their support over the 20 years I've been here," said Vakaros, who ran Frankie's Pizza in the location. "Nothing lasts forever. Change is going to happen. It's sad to see but I wanted to wish them good luck."

A new park, proposed as "a gathering spot" and venue for live performances, is expected to take Frankie's place once fundraising is complete. The pizzeria went out of business in 2012.

People reacted to the news on social media.

"Very fond memories growing up at Frankie's," wrote Kyle Pearce via Instagram.

Harmony Place is the brainchild of Bob Stevens and the rest of the crew behind recent renovations at the neighboring Brooks House. The Brooks House, damaged in a fire in 2011, now houses colleges, apartments and businesses on Main Street.

Behind it is the Harmony Lot. The parking lot is owned by the town but the area where Harmony Place is proposed belongs to the Brooks House.

A community meeting Tuesday at the site announced fundraising and construction goals behind the project which is anticipated to cost $500,000.

"A group of people have pledged $150,000 if we can raise another $100,000," Stevens told the Reformer, explaining that the campaign was just getting started. "This (meeting) was to see if we can get that support."

His idea involves closing off the tunnel and area behind the Brooks House to traffic in order to host arts, farmers markets, festivals and performances. Permeable surfaces would replace pavement and cement. Planters and trees also are part of the plan. A nonprofit, Parks and Plazas Inc., was formed to organize the effort.

While the hope is to go to construction by this time next year, demolition of the former Frankie's Pizza building is happening this week. The goal is to have the park ready by the middle of next summer.

"The blue wall behind me will be a stage with a pergola that turns into a band shell that you can hang circus performers off of and we can seat 150 people out here. We can drop a screen and show movies off that. We have sculptural art elements and fountains as part of the park, and places to sit so people can get away. We have a plan to hire staff and have staff that lines up acts, collects money, markets it," said Stevens. "So if this vision becomes reality, we think that we will get more people down here on a regular basis."

Approximately 200 attendees flocked the site for lemonade, snacks, live music and activities on Tuesday. Stevens said he felt good about the meeting's turnout.

"I think this community is amazing," he said. "If people think the project's compelling and will make the downtown better, people will support it."

Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Noelle MacKay applauded the group for doing its "homework."

"It's not just putting in a couple park benches and all of a sudden it's going to succeed. Because great parks do exactly what you say. They bring people downtown, and they stay, they invest, they shop. And really the goal is to make sure our downtowns survive," MacKay said. "As you travel across the country, you see some downtowns that are boarded up. We don't really have that in Vermont. And it's because many people over many years worked really hard to make it successful."

Brattleboro's downtown is well-known but fragile, according to Stevens. Citing challenges behind retail versus online shopping and competing locations having more greenery, he looks at the project as a way to use the space in a way that is better than just parking.

"This park is no different is no different than any other endeavors," he said, noting the partnership of the Brooks House with Bast Investment Company and the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, "not to mention the 20 to 30 types of users that we've met with; artists and performers, who believe this could be a great space to activate the downtown."

At the site Wednesday, Tyler Excavating President Karey Tyler said the roof of Frankie's would be taken down first. Then the first floor would be dropped into the basement and a truck would take all the debris to a waste facility.

"We're trying to protect the new pavement and sidewalks as much as possible," said Tyler.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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