St. Albans gets downtown revitalization grant

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(Host) St. Albans officials say a $380,000 federal grant will give their downtown a much-needed face lift.

And that, they hope, will spark an economic revitalization for the northern Vermont city.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd visited St. Albans and has this report.

(Sneyd) Vacant storefronts dot Main Street, the heart of the city’s retail core.

Others stores sport signs that advertise how slow business is, even as they entice shoppers in … “50 percent off sale.” “Going out of business sale.”

Like towns all over the country, St. Albans hasn’t avoided the recession.

But City Manager Dominic Cloud says St. Albans wants to emerge from the downturn in a position to lure expanding businesses to the center of the city.

(Cloud) “This is ultimately going to be probably over a million dollars to redesign the downtown, which helps send a signal to the business community: `this is a good place to invest.’ The type of thing we’re talking about doing are the basics: sidewalks, streetlights, signage, all of the things that say, `This is a good place to invest.”’

(Sneyd) Standing on a corner across from Taylor Park, Mayor Marty Manahan says the city has already gotten started. Sidewalks have been replaced in the park.

Ultimately, he wants to see much more. On empty lots behind all those Main Street businesses, city leaders envision new development. Manahan calls it the “downtown core project.”

(Manahan) “It’s another piece of the puzzle that we have at our disposal now to enhance our downtown that in turn will bring in businesses, not only commercial but retail, as well. We’ve talked to a number of corporate businesses looking to locate office space here. We’re working on a downtown core project that’s going to take place behind our downtown. Retail establishments, as well. We’ve got some storefronts that are ready to go.”

(Sneyd) City officials don’t say it out loud, but they know there’s a good chance their downtown could face some stiff competition from just north of their border with St. Albans Town.

Wal-Mart wants to build a store there and many people in the community believe that threatens the city’s downtown.

City Manager Cloud says the "streetscape” improvements will make downtown a different place from developments outside the city.

(Cloud) “We all know when you walk in the different communities around the state, you get the sense when you’re in one that functions well, the traffic moves, there’s good parking, there’s good lighting, you can find your way around, there’s thriving businesses, there’s a sense that you are somewhere and well know when we’re not. This is the beginning of an effort to have people, when they’re in downtown St. Albans, say, `This is a great place to be.”’

(Sneyd) Meetings will begin next week to finalize redevelopment plans. Officials say construction probably won’t start for another year.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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