BRATTLEBORO — The $4.5 million project to build a new Amtrak station in Brattleboro won’t get started until the spring of 2022, but folks are already getting excited about what it will mean for downtown.
“Brattleboro’s waterfront will be the place to be, and it will serve as a proper gateway to Vermont,” said Danny Lichtenfeld, the director of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, which has its own expansion plans.
A year ago, BMAC, Stevens and Associates and M&S Development announced a plan to demolish two buildings on the Whetstone Brook, replacing them with a four-story building with gallery space, affordable housing and market-rate apartments and condo units.
“The new Amtrak station will be a key part of the overall enhancement and revitalization of the southern end of downtown Brattleboro,” said Lichtenfeld.
On Nov. 19, Amtrak announced its own plans to build a new station in Brattleboro.
“This project began as a joint effort by Amtrak and the town of Brattleboro to bring our existing station into [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance,” Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell stated in a news release.
The new station will feature the first level-boarding platform in Vermont, at four-feet tall and 345 feet long. The boarding platform will also be heated to melt snow.
Elwell told the Reformer over the next few years, millions of dollars of state and federal funds will be invested in Brattleboro, both with the new train station and a new $42-million bridge connecting the town to Hinsdale, N.H.
Another $8 million is also being set aside to rehabilitate the existing bridges linking the two towns and converting them for pedestrian use.
“There is also the possible re-use of the existing bridges and the island for public recreation,” said Elwell.
“Its like the Whetstone is at the epicenter of an explosion in Brattleboro where commerce and culture come together,” said David Hiler, who, with Tim and Amy Brady, owns and operates the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery on Bridge Street, where the Whetstone Brook spills into the Connecticut River and across the street from the railroad stop.
“The new station will provide increased access to a revitalized part of town which, 100 years ago, was the hub of Brattleboro,” said Hiler. “We’d love to see that happen again and given all that’s proposed over the next couple of years, there are lots of reasons to think it will.”
Hiler said he is concerned about what impact the construction of the new bridge and the BMAC expansion will have on his business, but he believes “The outcome will be well worth it.”
In Amtrak’s 2019 fiscal year, Brattleboro Station provided 16,765 customer trips to passengers.
Amtrak, however, hasn’t operated its Vermonter or Ethan Allen Express service since March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restarting the service is up to the state, which hasn’t announced a date when the trains will start running again.
Jason Abrams, public relations manager for Amtrak, wrote in an email to the Reformer that funding for the new train station is coming from an annual grant Amtrak gets from Congress.
During construction, he said, there will be limited disruption to the existing station, train schedules or local traffic because the new station will be located on the river side of the tracks. The current station is located in the basement of the town-owned building that also houses the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. The building, formerly known as Union Station, was built in 1915.
When complete, the new station will have an attendant on staff within an hour of a train’s departure or arrival time. The space will also have a bike rack and a covered outdoor space.
Elwell noted that public/private partnerships are rehabilitating nearby buildings in downtown Brattleboro.
“It has already occurred at the Snow Block and is coming soon to the Sanel Building,” he said. “These are major investments in housing, transportation, and public amenities with a minimum of cost to Brattleboro taxpayers. As we continue to persevere through COVID-19 and look forward to brighter days ahead, things look very bright indeed at and around lower Main Street.”
Windham Windsor Housing Trust built the Snow Block, a brand-new building with 23 apartments on Flat Street, easily within walking distance of the new train station. Next door, M&S Development has plans to rehabilitate a former grocery warehouse into a building with a co-working space on the first floor, and studios and one bedroom apartments on the second, third and fourth floors.
Because the proposed location of the new station is on the river side of the tracks, it will mean the loss of about 10 parking spaces for the town, said Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland. He said the town will discuss the loss of the parking spaces at the Dec. 1 Select Board meeting. At this time, said Moreland, the town does not have plans for the space currently serving as the Amtrak station.
Bob Audette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.