Editorial: A new beginning for Middlebury?
After three trying years of construction, including almost 10 weeks without downtown traffic this summer, Middlebury is on the verge of a new beginning — at least as much of a new beginning as a town founded 259 years ago ever gets.
When the ribbons were cut this Friday to reopen newly black-topped Main Street and Merchants Row, complete with granite curbs, wider sidewalks and a greatly expanded Triangle Park, a great sigh of relief reverberated deep down in this community’s soul. It’s somewhat akin to how storm survivors must feel after emerging from their shelters, realizing they survived. Not quite joy, nor triumph, but happy to have made it to the other side.
The 360-foot railway tunnel and reconstruction of Middlebury’s core were preceded by a five-year political battle that yielded a $72 million project far beyond the scope of what most residents first imagined. It was bigger, more elaborate, more complex, more impressive a feat of engineering than one would have thought possible, or necessary. But any complaints or argumentative diminishments are history.
It’s done, it appears to have been done extremely well and it presents Middlebury with a revitalized path forward.
Over the next few weeks, Triangle Park will begin taking shape; new parking and the Main Street entrance to the Marble Works Business District will be completed; a new rail passenger platform will be built off of Seymour Street and Maple Street will get refurbished; and a more pleasant riverfront will emerge between the Battell Block and the Cross Street Bridge — hopefully with adequate access and public benches so people can enjoy the Otter Creek in an urbanesque setting (as in other communities with a river as enchanting as the Otter Creek can be). There is ample space to do so, and while this might have to be done with town funding, it would be a shame to bypass the opportunity.
More importantly, we must rekindle downtown Middlebury’s verve and vitality. Throughout this construction period many businesses were weakened and several closed. The pandemic added its own burdens and will continue to hinder businesses that serve as community places to gather, but more darkly it demonstrated how pervasive online shopping has become. Local retail is a shadow of its former self.
Finding the right mix of retail, professional, residential, academic and personal services to embrace the downtown will be a challenge, though other communities have done it well and Middlebury starts with strong assets. It begins with asking each other what, in our most idealized vision of our town, we want to portray — in effect, asking the artist to paint a portrait of who we are now and who we might become tomorrow.
New beginnings create exciting opportunities. They beckon the area’s brightest, most energetic and most creative minds to step forward. Don’t hesitate. Opportunities missed too often dull a town’s inherent optimism.
— Angelo Lynn
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