By Robin Smith, as seen in the Caledonian Record: http://www.caledonianrecord.com/news/local/community-visits-to-focus-on-...
NEWPORT CITY — Recommendations about downtown’s potential for economic development will form the baseline for community discussions about the city’s future this winter.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development will host a series of community meetings and dinners beginning in December in Newport City, says Jenna Koloski, community and policy manager for VCRD.
“I’m looking forward to the VCRD process,” Mayor Paul Monette said last week.
The community visit is timely, with the city trying to deal with the loss of development when plans for the Renaissance Block and the biotech plant were dashed due to the collapse of the EB-5 foreign investment scheme.
City manager Laura Dolgin said it’s important for the city to have the recommendations by real estate analysts White & Burke about how the city’s downtown can be developed as a basis for discussions.
Any conversations that happened before EB-5’s collapse are no longer relevant in today’s market, officials said.
VCRD has spent the last 20 years developing the expertise to convene and host community “visits” that help communities like Newport City figure out future goals, Koloski said Thursday “We don’t know what’s best for Newport,” she said.
The community visits should be “deep conversations about what’s actionable right now.”
VCRD has met with 57 different communities, including some recently in the Northeast Kingdom – Brighton, Burke and Lyndon. That has given VCRD the tools to facilitate the discussion, Koloski said.
The first meeting in December will help Newport residents and others involved in the community to brainstorm and identify the most important things to work toward in a brainstorming session.
A team of regional, state and federal representatives from government, philanthropic groups, non-profits and businesses will join in the discussion, she said.
In January, the next gathering will focus on potential ideas and priorities for action. Koloski said this visit usually narrows down the priorities to three to five top goals. And then people will be asked to sign up on task forces created to achieve these goals.
In February, VCRD will host the first meeting of these different task forces, uniting community members with leaders who can provide resources to meet the goals.
The community visits from VCRD will have details about how economic development could go forward in the city, based on studies and recommendations from White & Burke.
White & Burke is looking at whether a hotel developer would want to build a hotel downtown, where that could be located and other potential developments involving the city’s razed downtown block, the waterfront and other buildings like the state office building and courthouses.
Its recommendations will be available before the first community visit.