Citizens group donates $100,000

BENNINGTON — Citizens for a Greater Bennington, in partnership with Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council, has announced a $100,000 grant to support the Putnam Block redevelopment project.

For more than a decade, the group battled the developer of the expanded Walmart store off Northside Drive, citing environmental impacts and concerns over the impact of a greatly expanded store on the downtown business district. In a settlement agreement four years ago, the group received $200,000 that it plans to donate to benefit the downtown district.

The grant will be made through the Southwestern Vermont Hospital Foundation, and it will leverage an additional $100,000 contribution from the Bank of Bennington, the citizen group said in a release.

Southwestern Vermont Health Care, the medical center's parent corporation, is one of several institutions and businesses, including Bank of Bennington, investing in the $53 million Putnam Block redevelopment, which is expected to go to construction in phase one of the work this fall.

Plans call for creating up to 200,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and office space, along with housing in the historic

buildings centered around the former Hotel Putnam and in newly constructed buildings on the four-acre site at the Four Corners intersection. A medical services building is one of the new structures proposed in the project's second phase.

"Thirteen years ago when we organized the community around our concerns for the Walmart expansion and its impact on downtown, I never could have imagined that we would one day be in a position to support the most significant development project Bennington has seen in over 50 years," said Meg Campbell, a co-founder of the citizen group along with former resident Alica Romac. "I'm thrilled to be among the committed citizens and institutions of Bennington that are eager to see this project happen."

She said the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Preservation Trust of Vermont were partners who helped secure a settlement of permitting issues surrounding the Walmart project, providing a range of legal and other expertise the citizen group could not have brought on its own.

Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources, said, "For more than 50 years VNRC has worked to support compact development in and around Vermont's downtowns as a way to support local merchants and provide an alternative to commercial strip development. The Putnam Block project is a great example of the type of compact, mixed-use redevelopment that Vermont communities need, and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize downtown Bennington."

"This is an incredible opportunity, the most important project that has been proposed in downtown Bennington in years," said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, "and it is impressive that all of the significant institutions in the community have come together to support downtown Bennington. They understand the importance of downtown, and their investment and their commitment is what is really making this effort possible."

The CFGB funds are a result of a 2013 settlement reached with the Walmart store developer, BLS Bennington, LC, during the lengthy permitting process for the expansion of the Bennington Walmart. The developer proposed razing a 52,000-square-foot store to build a new 112,000-square-foot Walmart, which opened in 2016.

According to the settlement, BLS Bennington agreed to provide $200,000 for programs and projects to support the economic vitality of downtown Bennington, and $20,000 for programs and projects to maintain, enhance or restore streams and rivers within the Walloomsac River watershed.

Campbell said Thursday that funding also will be donated to a pocket park being developed at 336 Main St. near the Four Corners intersection.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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