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Top 10 of 2021: Local economic development projects get funding

HELEN HALL HAS returned to Middlebury after a 16-year absence and is preparing to give new life to one of her favorite childhood memories: Calvi’s restaurant. She plans to open the business in the Marble Works this coming spring. Independent photo/John S. McCright

The pandemic provided an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to reimagine their businesses — or create new ones.

Much of this economic renaissance took place in Middlebury, with help from a “Kick Start” program created by the Better Middlebury Partnership. Bankrolled with $50,000 from the town of Middlebury, another $50,000 from a new charitable nonprofit called “Table 21,” $10,000 from Middlebury Rotary Club and another $10,000 anonymous donation, Kick Start offering new ventures a chance to compete for start-up grants of $15,000 to $20,000. Entrepreneurs were asked to presenting their best ideas for filling at least a few of the many vacant downtown storefronts.

The competition drew many interesting applications that the Kick Start board whittled down to six winners: Addison West, providing home and lifestyle products and design services; Calvi’s, modeled after the old-fashioned ice cream shop that operated for years on Main Street; Midd Rock Bouldering Center, featuring rock climbing, fitness training, youth programming and special events; Middlebury Studio School, providing arts education for people of all ages; Sparrow Art Supply, “Central Vermont’s go-to shop for all art, craft, and creative needs, from oil paints to markers to pottery tools”; and Your Home Too, a “vintage and vintage-inspired lifestyle shop” offering an ever-changing selection of used, refurbished and re-imagined furniture and home design pieces.

Winners received their good news in July and then set to work finding specific spaces to meet their individual needs.

Key in the success of Kick Start was the infusion of $50,000 from Table 21. Last winter, an anonymous benefactor with ties to the Congregational Church of Middlebury donated more than $600,000 to help soften COVID’s economic impacts for Middlebury-area restaurants, farms and retailers. Pastor Andy Nagy-Benson headed up a committee to review applications and award individual grants. The money proved to be a godsend for many enterprises that were on the ropes.

Economic development was also percolating in Bristol. Workers broke ground on a new development on Stony Hill that will host the 20-unit Firehouse Apartments affordable housing complex and a 9.6-acre business park. Plans call for the site to host three light industrial or office buildings totaling as much as 71,000 square feet. The Addison County Economic Development Corporation has stated that based on surrounding economic activity, the new development could create more than 200 full-time equivalent jobs.

In Vergennes, state officials rebooted a study of an alternate truck route bypassing the Little City. A 2019 study raised the possibility of a truck route through northern Vergennes — with a bridge — at a cost of around $27.5 million. This latest study will take into account that downtown Vergennes is the economic center of northern Addison County. The study will also rely on “land use visioning” in all the affected communities to determine the best economic outcomes.

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