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Center Street Alley project complete

2018-08-08

In 2006, VCRD's facilitated a "Rutland Creative Communities" effort. One of the priorities they selected through the process was "Build a Central Open Air Mall on Center Street." They have done it!

By Gordon Dritschilo, as seen in the Rutland Herald: https://www.rutlandherald.com/news/center-street-alley-project-complete/...

It's finished. After 10 years, roughly $1.4 million and several redesigns, the Center Street Alley project officially concluded Tuesday with a ribbon cutting on what the city has officially named the Center Street Marketplace Park. The former alley is now a patch of grass surrounded by new sidewalk, lights and a fence, with the "Stone Legacy" marble statue in the corner.

"Any day a mayor can open a new city park is a great day for the community," Mayor David Allaire said. "Persistence and diligence got us across the finish line."

A large crowd gathered. Most were crowded against the walls of the Masonic Temple and the Bardwell House, which offered the only shade in the blazing noontime sun. Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Buffy, who served as project manager during the home stretch, beckoned people into the sunlight so they would be closer to the guest speakers. Duffy ran through a list of the people and groups that made the project possible, including the current and previous mayors, surrounding landowners and their tenants, the state, the Downtown Rutland Partnership, the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Rutland Economic Development Council and several individual officials and volunteers.

The project began in 2008 following meetings between Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and members of Rutland's Creative Economy group. The alley had been used as an event space for Winter in August and the downtown chili cookoff just a few years earlier, but had fallen into disrepair and was considered underutilized. In 2009, Leahy secured a $972,000 earmark to rebuild the alley. "It seems like forever ago I got that million dollars," Leahy said. "I was talking with (Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.) — we're going to try to bring back earmarks and get some more. ... This project's not about bricks or architecture or engineering. That's important, but it's about community."

Leahy stressed the importance of gathering places to strong communities and the importance of strong communities at a time when national political discourse is becoming increasingly belligerent. "We need a time to bring back our connections as Vermonters," he said. "We have a relationship. Cherish it. It's not like that in other parts of the country. Cherish it."

Welch noted how long Duffy spent thanking the various people involved. "It was a long speech, because there were a lot of people and a lot of organizations hanging in every step of the way," he said. "You get things done through effort. You never stop, but you also get things done through cooperation."

The design phase began in 2011, but the project was quickly complicated by the right of way process — the property consisted of 40 parcels, some created by century-old surveying errors. As the project dragged on and incurred cost overruns, it underwent design changes, getting scaled back with each iteration. Ground was broken in 2015 — Leahy came to town to pry loose a ceremonial first brick — and more complications followed. "Standing here on the grass, you'd be amazed at how much infrastructure — old pipes and electric conduits — are underneath the ground," Duffy said. Duffy said the project went out to bid twice in 2016, but the city "really couldn't make the numbers work," prompting a "substantial redesign." Even then, there was not enough left from the $1 million earmark. The city contributed $250,000 and a state grant added $62,000 to the pot. The RRA came up with $50,000, Duffy said, while the Rotary Club and Rutland Blooms contributed $25,000 each.

Kim Peters, Superintendent of the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department, said she was already getting inquiries from organizations about holding events in the new park. "Starting next year, we'll start renting out the space," she said. "We'll have movie nights." Duffy said the park may yet get some add-ons. He said the city will apply for a state grant to add benches, picnic tables and games, like a giant chessboard. He said the park will likely not get some of the more grandiose features removed from early designs, like a fountain. He also said the long-term plan does not include shade trees. "Right now, the idea is having an open green space without encumbrances like trees and see how that works," he said. "The other piece is, there's a lot of infrastructure under the ground and we really can't put tree roots in there."