By Robin Smith, as seen in the Caledonian Record: http://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/local/newport-city-community-picks-...
NEWPORT CITY — Nearly 100 people gathered Wednesday evening to pick the top priorities they can do to improve life in Newport City for the coming year.
They chose broad themes of tourism, attracting and supporting businesses, expanding community celebrations, and improving community health, wellness, childcare and education.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development will coordinate a third gathering next month to bring volunteers together with technical experts to put these priorities into action.
The meeting in the municipal building gym was the second as part of the community visit organized by the council. The priorities came out of a day-long series of forums in December held to nail down the wishes of residents and stakeholders, including civic leaders, business people, and those who use the city’s many services and businesses and benefit from its organizations.
Those at Wednesday’s gathering had 18 different potential priorities to discuss, improve on and ultimately select from to find the top focus for the coming year.
Along with the top four priorities, others were improving public transportation and bike-ability, better access to the lake, improving downtown traffic and pedestrian safety and communications networks, the desire for a community center, better housing and connections with Quebec, redevelopment of Bluff Side Farm, and addressing substance abuse.
Others included revitalizing downtown, attracting a downtown hotel, and starting a Newport mentorship program.
Paul Costello, executive director of the council, told those present that they should look at the each of the 18 priorities and ask these questions:
- Is it something that’s real and can be accomplished?
- Can it be successfully addressed?
- Is it within your power?
- Is anyone else already working on it?
- What’s the most do-able and most impactful?
Costello noted that some of the initial priorities may be worthy and do-able but would be easier to accomplish in a second or third year once first priorities are achieved.
He asked people to stand up and lobby for their favorite priorities.
Diane Peel, of the 99 Center, and Alderwoman Julie Raboin urged the community to support the creation of a larger community center where some of these priorities can be accomplished.
Mayor Paul Monette and Alderman John Wilson and others wanted to support and attract businesses, saying a vibrant business economy and new jobs will lead to other successes.
“We need businesses here to put people to work,” Wilson said.
Others supported more access to the waterfront, calling it an incredible resource, improving the marketing and branding of Newport City.
Others wanted to improve Prouty Beach, with one woman suggesting a volunteer task force to manually remove milfoil.
Steve Wright, CEO of Jay Peak Resort, said he would work with a marketing task force to coordinate the city and the mountain.
Wright said he wanted to see 5 to 10 percent of the one million people who visit Jay Peak annually to also visit Newport City. That would be a significant influx, he said.
“I think there’s a way to do that,” he said.
That idea was supported by others.
Others lobbied for more city events and celebrations to attract visitors.
Each of the 18 priorities was posted on the end wall of the gym. Participants voted with stickers, putting them on the priority posters they favored.
The organizers whittled down the choices to eight priorities, and then after more discussion, voted on the final four. The actual vote totals were not revealed.
Next, the council will bring together task forces with resource teams of experts and leaders to begin the work on Feb. 21 at the North Country Career Center, said Jenna Koloski of the council on Thursday. That meeting will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The experts will provide technical assistance to each team.
People were able to sign up Wednesday night for a task force.
Anyone else who wants to participate can sign up by email firstname.lastname@example.org, or can call the council at (802) 223-6091. People are also welcome to show up for the discussion Feb. 21, Koloski said.