By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — While Middlebury’s Cross Street has been squarely in the headlines for its potential to host a new in-town bridge over the Otter Creek, an ad hoc committee has been quietly mapping out a new retail-office hub that could be located mere yards from the proposed new span.
Representatives of the Middlebury Economic Development Initiative Committee (EDIC) on Tuesday unveiled some conceptual drawings of a 40,000-square-foot commercial building that could be erected on land located behind the Ilsley Library. The roughly 77,000 square feet of land in question is primarily used now as a municipal parking lot and is owned by Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury.
College and municipal officials recently joined forces to take a closer look at the downtown property and its potential in hosting a project that could improve the economic vitality of downtown while boosting Middlebury’s grand list.
Middlebury Town Planner and EDIC member Fred Dunnington on Tuesday presented selectmen some conceptual drawings showing a 40,000-square-foot building bordering Cross Street between the current Steele’s Service Center property and the rim of the Otter Creek off Bakery Lane (see map).
While the plans are still very much in flux, Dunnington said the building could boast as many as three stories, built above as many as three levels of parking. There could be around 100 spaces for each level of parking, according to Dunnington.
Parking, according to committee members, could be used for shoppers doing business anywhere downtown. Parking is often perceived to be a scarce commodity in downtown Middlebury.
“The issue of height and levels is still being evaluated,” Dunnington said. “(The committee) is still studying how this could fit into the downtown without being over-scaled.”
The committee has hired Phelps Engineering and TJ Boyle Associates to help them evaluate the college/town-owned site and set a future course for the project.
Dunnington noted that preliminary studies conducted by Phelps and TJ Boyle indicate:
• There is adequate municipal water supply and sewer capacity to serve a major development at the Cross Street site.
• Soil borings show that an abundance of fill, dating back to the 1940s, has been deposited at the site over the years, but none of that fill appears to be contaminated. Dunnington said additional fill would need to be brought in to the site to make a substantial project possible.
Town officials stressed that the new Cross Street commercial hub is a long way from becoming reality. To advance beyond mere concept, the project would need — among other things — investors and an anchor tenant.
If built, selectmen said the Cross Street project could generate some revenues to help pay for the new in-town bridge. Selectboard Chairman John Tenny said under a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) scenario, tax proceeds from the project would be assigned to a specific obligation — in this case, toward repayment of the local share of the in-town bridge.
The EDIC is putting a lot of thought into how a major retail-office building and a nearby in-town bridge could coexist as neighbors.
“(The committee) is intrigued with the opportunity… in linking the new building to the bridge and its approaches with a continuous sidewalk along the side, so that (Cross Street) really becomes a main street, if you will,” Tenny said.
The EDIC will next meet on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 9 a.m., in the Middlebury municipal building. Anyone interested in learning more about the committee and its goals may contact Dunnington at 388-8106.