MANCHESTER — At the second public session for Manchester’s community visit, the community narrowed down a list of goals to four priorities for improving the town’s draw for tourists, economic future and educational opportunities.
By the end of the meeting, the attendees decided to focus future efforts on attracting higher education opportunities, becoming a bicycling center and destination, redeveloping the riverside by creating a riverwalk and developing an incubator for small businesses.
Brian Keefe, local chairman for Manchester’s community visit, called Thursday a “very productive evening” during which a lot of great ideas were suggested by enthusiastic participants.
“I think we came up with four distinct and achievable goals,” he said.
Lee Krohn, Manchester’s planning director and zoning administrator, said the attendance at the forum, which took place at Burr and Burton Academy on Thursday, was “stellar” with people standing and dozens of chairs filled.
"It was a full house, a very enthusiastic full house, and I was very pleased with the positive energy,” he said.
Manchester is taking part in the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Community Visit process which has helped many communities not only consider their assets and needs but also come up with a plan to make future improvements.
For Manchester, the public process began in March with a daylong visit. At sites in town people met and discussed various topics which had been chosen in advance by a local steering committee. Ideas were generated in these “brainstorming sessions,” and noted by staff from the Vermont Council on Rural Development, or VCRD.
Before Thursday’s meeting, VCRD staff collated those ideas so they could return to Manchester with a more focused look at what concerns were commonly expressed and goals were commonly mentioned.
This starting point allowed the group to settle on four goals by the end of what Krohn said was almost a three-hour meeting.
While the goals of creating a small business incubator and developing the town’s bicycle amenities could be common to many communities, the riverside and higher education goals have particular ties to Manchester.
"There’s long been thought about linking historic Main Street to Depot Street behind the bank and the other buildings on Main Street. If you could get a bridge back across the river, the whole riverwalk (could be), say from the town green down toward the shopping center,” Krohn said.
Keefe said the group talked about higher education because there is no college or institution of higher learning in Manchester.
“Many people feel our economy would be helped and our individual citizens could achieve some self-improvement if we had some higher education opportunities here beyond what is online or sort of ad hoc. We’re hoping to attract some sort of presence from one of the state colleges or one of the regional colleges,” he said.
Keefe said he believed that the community visit process had generated a lot of positive energy which he expected would be useful not just for the goals set by the visit, but other goals that didn’t make the “final four,” like making Manchester a destination for locally-grown food or revitalizing the downtown.
The next public meeting, during which action plans are expected to be started, is scheduled for May 21. Krohn said the site of the meeting was still to be decided.
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