(Host) Two years ago, the city of Rutland kicked off a series of community-wide dialogs on the region’s creative economy.
As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, many local residents say it’s paid off with a variety of new projects and developments.
(Keck) What does it mean to talk about a community’s creative economy? Whitney Lamy is Assistant Director of the Chaffee Arts Center in Rutland.
(Lamy) “To me the creative economy is very simple. It’s based on creating a third place. We have places where we live and most of us have a place where we work. But it’s that cultural place that’s created outside of those two places that is that third place.”
(Keck) Over the last two years, Rutland area officials, planners, business leaders and members of the community have been working together to define what that place should be like – artistically, culturally, recreationally and economically. Rutland Real Estate Developer Mark Foley Junior is a member of the creative economy steering committee.
(Foley) “There are tremendous opportunities and a lot of positive things are happening in downtown right now that I think over the next 12 to 24 months a lot of the things that have just sort of been kicked around are really taking root and I think we’ll start to see some of those things coming out of the ground.”
(Keck) A plan to close off Center Street on Friday nights during the summer is one way they hope to promote activity. But Foley says they’re also exploring ways to expand the farmers’ market and make better use a large open plaza known as the Center Street Alley.
The Paramount Theater recently opened a new gallery called the Brick Box and he says the Center Street Artisans, another downtown gallery which opened over a year and a half ago has been a great addition to the city.
After thirty years as a vacant lot, a multi million dollar building project has been proposed for the old Berwick hotel site. And Foley says his company is developing some upscale downtown apartments. Local lawmakers, he says, are doing their part to support existing downtown businesses with special loans.
(Foley) “I haven’t seen as much grass roots activism – where you have major decision makers part of the process throughout in a long time and I think that’s what’s going to allow some of these things to take shape so we’re really encouraged by it.”
(Keck) At Clem’s restaurant in downtown Rutland the breakfast rush is slowing down. Owner Geraldine Knox recently moved the popular eatery from a nearby side street to a more prominent location on Center Street. She says the move has been great for business and she likes what she hears concerning the creative economy. But her optimism is cautious.
(Knox) “We still have a lot of empty storefronts. We really need to attract more businesses into downtowns before I feel we can go out and do all this outside work.”
(Keck) With so many independent business owners, Knox says getting them all to agree on the best way to promote growth is challenging.
Tara Kelly, a local planner who chairs the Creative Economy steering committee, says no change comes easily. But she says local residents are seeing the connection between downtown development, recreation and the arts like never before.
For instance, during the community dialogs last year, she says residents asked for a central clearing house on local arts information. By the end of the summer, she says a new website should provide that.
(Kelly) “That’s a really big deal. The creative economy committee negotiated that between the Rutland Herald and a private web site developer called Small Planet here in town and they are investing heavily in this – it’s not something we could have done on our own. So that’s the other powerful part of the creative economy. It’s not just a bunch of people saying here are some good ideas, but oh, we don’t have the resources to do it. We’re actually being able to link to the resources that can make it happen.”
(Keck) On the recreation front, Kelly says local groups are hard at work to create a bike and pedestrian path. And while a multi million dollar indoor recreation center has hit some road blocks, city officials are looking at more affordable improvements, such as ways to enclose and refrigerate an existing open air ice rink to make it useable all year.
(Kelly) “I think there was a lot of energy bubbling beneath the surface – a lot of people having conversations like: they should be doing this they should be doing that. The creative economy broke down walls and said okay what do you want to see happen and how are you going to help that happen?”
(Keck) Whitney Lamy, of the Chaffee Arts Center says the city’s efforts are turning heads.
(Lamy) “There’s a buzz in Rutland and that people around the state are noticing that things are changing here. And there’s a lot of really creative positive energy.”
(Keck) Organizers say the challenge, now, will be to keep the momentum going. Thus far, all the committees have been run by volunteers. Tara Kelly says she’d like to see the city step up and help fund a paid staff person to keep all the projects on track.
For VPR news, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.