Middlebury downtown funds OK’d

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on May 15 unanimously endorsed a $228,750 proposal to market the downtown during the next two years, a period that will bring much construction disruption to the core village area during replacement of the Merchants Row and Main Street rail bridges.
The marketing plan — which must ultimately gain funding approval from the Vermont Agency of Transportation — was assembled by the grassroots group “Neighbors Together,” made up of representatives from downtown businesses, churches, citizenry, institutions and economic development organizations. Their common goal: Help downtown merchants and property owners weather the rail bridges project, which will bring detours, noise, dust and other challenges to local commerce, tourism and everyday life for those residing in the construction zone.
“We’re looking for accessibility, as well as communication,” Nancy Malcolm, a leader of Neighbors Together, told the selectboard.
The group is asking for a combined total of $228,750 in state funds to implement promotional programs for this year and 2020. Their recommendations include:
•Supporting the ExperienceMiddlebury.com website, and related social media platforms, to herald Middlebury businesses and community events and attract visitors to the area, building on the work already begun.
•Ongoing funding for the “Bundle” pop-up event space at 60 Main St. Advocates want the space to host up to six events per month in collaboration with downtown businesses, to bring traffic into the community center and encourage patronage of restaurants and stores.
During its roughly two months of operation, Bundle has hosted multiple pop-up events, including a reusable-bags-making workshop, a basket weaving event, a makers’ market and a jewelry/maple syrup sale.
Most of those events have been well attended and enthusiastically received, according to Karen Duguay, a Neighbors Together member and executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership.
“I’m so excited about what’s happening in this space and the potential going forward,” Duguay told the board.
•Continuation of last year’s work to make the downtown more aesthetically pleasing, including fence art and flower baskets.
•Launching a regional marketing campaign to tout Middlebury’s allure as a tourism destination. The campaign will, among other tings, note the community’s year-round outdoor recreation opportunities, its diverse local food and craft beverage market, and its vibrant arts and culture scene.
•Working with wellness organizations — such as Rise Vermont, Porter Medical Center and Come Alive Outside — to promote healthy activities while also encouraging off-site downtown parking during construction, with rewards for those who participate.
•Hosting special events in the downtown to draw crowds. Planned events include additional downtown block parties and outdoor concerts at the Marble Works during the summer of 2019 and 2020.
•Using local promotional currency, such as “Middlebury Money,” as rewards or prizes for local business patronage during special events or promotions.
•Offering special promotions at specific downtown businesses, on a rotating basis. Those promotions could include deals and/or discounts to encourage traffic and spending in that business.
•Holding weekly scavenger hunts with prizes, promoted and led by the various Neighbors Together stakeholder groups.
•Creating a volunteer-staffed visitors’ center to answer questions, provide information and way-finding details to visitors and locals during construction — particularly when Main Street and Merchants Row both close during an estimated 10 weeks of the summer 2020. This plan also calls for an un-staffed information kiosk on the east side of downtown.
Advocates have also outlined a series of downtown promotional activities that aren’t part of the $228,750 budget. They include creating partnerships between downtown businesses and those on Exchange Street or Route 7, working with Addison County Transit Resources to promote use of shuttle buses by downtown employees, installing a “construction-themed story walk,” and offering golf cart transportation between some downtown locations.
Selectboard members praised the Neighbors group for its efforts.
“What you’ve done is created a great feeling of enthusiasm and joy about the town,” Selectman Victor Nuovo said. “Perhaps your greatest contribution is the feeling that we’re not going to be paralyzed by this (construction project) that’s going to happen.”
Selectman Nick Artim told group members, “I don’t have any disagreement with anything you’re going.”
“I love the plan,” Selectwoman Laura Asermily said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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