Just in time for foliage season, there’s a new rest area open off exit 7 on Interstate 89, in Berlin, and it offers a lot of firsts for Vermont.
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If you’re driving Vermont’s highways late at night, there are very few places where you can stop to ... go. But now, thanks to a partnership between private developers and the state, Vermont has its first 24-hour rest stop.
And the new Maplewood Travelers Service Center offers more than just bathrooms. There are also gas pumps, electric car chargers, food, Vermont specialty products and all the information you’ll find at any of the state-run visitor centers.
Co-owner Wayne Lamberton says the building itself is also uniquely Vermont – built by local contractors and featuring Vermont materials.
“We’re proud of the building and how we’ve partnered to present Vermont," says Lamberton. "We partnered with Rock of Ages for the granite murals and the granite signs. And all of the countertops are Barre grey granite ... and all of the wood and the trim in the entire facility is maple.”
In addition to the new $7 million solar-powered service center, Lamberton and his business partner Randy LaGue own an abutting restaurant and hotel. The space in between is being used for parking and electric vehicle charging.
Looking to a lot still under construction, Lamberton says, “That entire facility to the left of the hotel is our car charging lot, with the theory that someone with a slow charge that has six or eight hours could stay at the hotel, or [someone with] a quick charge could have lunch here or at Applebee’s, which we own also.”
Lamberton says a partnership with Green Mountain Power is providing electric car chargers that most E-vehicles use. And he says there are special charging stations for Tesla drivers.
“We have eight Tesla superchargers, which charge Tesla automobiles in 40 minutes," he says. "So this is one of very few supercharge sites in New England, and it will be a real destination for Tesla operators between Boston and Montreal.”
Lamberton says he and LaGue began discussing the idea of a privately-owned rest area with the state eight years ago, during the administration of Gov. Jim Douglas. That’s when Vermont was closing state-run visitor centers to save money.
“It was a long process, but I will say kudos to the state," he says. "They saw the value here, which is quite a value, because there was no investment by the state. Their investment was the brochure racks and the pictures you see inside. We funded the entire project. The state gets a free rest area, that’s open 24/7, with no maintenance costs.”
Ed von Turkovich is Vermont’s director of Government Business Services. He says the state has a contract with Maplewood to provide welcome center services for at least 10 years, and possibly up to 30 years. For its part, the state has spent about $90,000 on the visitors’ information part of the building, as well as training Maplewood employees as official state ambassadors.
The state will also be responsible for putting up highway signs, like it does for the other state welcome centers, von Turkovich says.
“Which is a first, in Vermont, that we would put up signs for a private business," he says. "But this just made so much sense, in terms of a public-private partnership, that the state agreed to put up signs. And this is the first travel service center in the state of Vermont, and we’re very proud of it.”
And von Turkovich says it’s an idea that’s worth replicating.
“We would definitely like to do it again," he says. "What we think is a win-win on this, clearly, is that fact that because of the developers’ agreement and willingness to do this for up to 30 years, the state’s going to save legacy costs in excess of $10 million by not having to build and not having to operate new visitor centers, for example in Randolph, when the time comes.”
It’s not just tourists who are taking advantage of the rest stop. It’s only been open three weeks, but already Barre residents Brett Rubinate and Dave Beaudoin have made it part of their routine.
“We come here every Wednesday to have coffee," says Rubinate. "We just come here, talk, hang out, get a breakfast sandwich, and just sit in the rocking chairs here and talk.”
Outside the store, Zack Solis is pumping gas into a work truck with Maine plates. He says he travels a lot for work, and he thinks the new Maplewood center is a nice place to stop.
“I just went inside and got a water and it is beautiful inside there," he says. "I love this place already. And the outside, they did a really good job here. So, if they keep it up they’ll have a lot of customers coming back here for sure.”
That’s something both the developers and the state are counting on.