Bristol group seeks public involvement in downtown

BRISTOL — Bristol CORE, an organization whose goal is to maintain economic vitality in town, is gearing up to reapply for the Vermont Designated Downtown status that has helped local businesses thrive.
Since gaining Designed Downtown status for Bristol in 2006, the organization (formerly known as the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership) has raised funds to dress up downtown with new lampposts, new benches on the town green, plantings around the downtown, and safe and inviting access along Prince Lane.
Bristol’s Designated Downtown status helps business and property owners, the town of Bristol and the nonprofit itself access important resources — such as tax credits, grants and loans — to continue revitalization. Without the designation, these entities would not be eligible for much of that funding.
“We work with the existing businesses to give them resources to be successful,” said CORE board chair Carolyn Ashby, who is registrar at Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. “We help promote them and their services. We are always looking at what potential new businesses could be an asset to the downtown and talking with folks who might be interested in making those things happen. We look at what other resources would be assets to the downtown.”
According to Ashby, within Addison County only three towns have Designated Downtown status, Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes, as does nearby Brandon in Rutland County.
Over the past year, the nonprofit Bristol CORE has redesigned its organizational structure, rethought how it approaches its mission, hired Ian Albinson as its new executive director, reached out to gather community input and changed its name from the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership to Bristol CORE. The new name pulls together the group’s key ideas of COmmunity and REsources, and it capitalizes the first two letters of both words to emphasize that point.
Vermont towns seeking Designated Downtown status must renew that status every five years. As part of that renewal process, towns must demonstrate success in meeting past goals and must articulate a handful of new goals for the upcoming five-year period.
Bristol’s reapplication as a Designated Downtown is due by June 2016. CORE has already begun to engage the community as the heart of that reapplication process. Over the past several months, CORE has reached out to residents to see which aspects of the state’s four-part Main Street strategy seem most important: creating a strong community-based organization, helping to build strong businesses, enhancing the look of the historic downtown and bringing as many people downtown as possible to shop, eat and enjoy.
Perhaps more importantly, CORE has begun asking Bristol residents what they think is the best way to keep its downtown strong. Among the many ideas put forth so far are creating a co-working space in Bristol (modeled on the Local 64 co-working space in Montpelier and similar spaces in Burlington), more rooftop small-scale solar to power downtown, better access to local foods (Bristol had no farmers’ market this past summer and its Mountain Greens natural foods store closed earlier this year) and improved village access to the New Haven River and to hiking and biking trails to connect downtown Bristol to surrounding ponds, meadows and mountains.
In addition to its work spiffing up downtown and helping local businesses thrive, CORE sponsors several events to make life in Bristol more fun, including the June Pocock Rocks music festival (which was on hiatus this past June) and the Cool Yule Chocolate Walk in December.
“It’s a guaranteed way to get people out and going around town if there is free chocolate,” Ashby said. “Even in a blizzard.”
CORE encourages residents to get involved — as board members and as volunteers — and help set Bristol’s path as a Designated Downtown for the next five years.
“Downtown Bristol is a really special place — the historic, physical character of the buildings, the way Main Street looks, how compact it is,” said Ashby. “Almost everything you need is right here; it’s all within walking distance. We have this amazing green that’s been here for over 100 years. The band concerts have been on that green since the Civil War. The playground is now brand new and is accessible for handicapped kids and for grandparents with walkers. And making sure that the businesses downtown are able to be successful and thrive and continue to serve the community is a really important part of making sure that all of that stays, that we continue to have this really fabulous downtown core that is so essential to making the community what it is.”
To get involved or just learn more about Bristol CORE, go to their website at discoverbristolvt.com.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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