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Middlebury closes in on $228K grant to help downtown

MIDDLEBURY — The citizens’ group Neighbors Together — which has been working on ideas to help downtown Middlebury weather the 2019-2021 construction storm that will come from the replacement of the Main Street and Merchants Row bridges — announced Friday, June 7 it had landed a $228,750 state grant to promote and market affected businesses during the big dig disruption.
“Clearly, we are pleased,” said Nancy Malcolm, a leader of Neighbors Together. “A lot of work was put into this (grant application) by a lot of people.”
While all the paperwork still needs to be completed, Community Liaison Jim Gish echoed Malcolm’s enthusiasm.
“We’re really excited to hear that VTrans has determined that the full Neighbors Together grant request of $228,750 is eligible for award and just awaiting final signatures,” Gish said. “The next step will be to finalize the grant award in an agreement between the state and the town and we expect that to take place before the end of the month.”
The Vermont Agency of Transportation grant will fund two years (2019-2020) worth of Neighbors Together initiatives that will 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 Street. 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.
• 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 things, 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 thatbusiness.
• 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.
Malcolm said Neighbors Together members — which include representatives from downtown businesses, churches, citizenry, institutions and economic development organizations — aren’t going to spend much time reveling in the good grant news.
“We’ve got the money, now the real work starts,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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