An investment group wants to bring residential housing and new office space to a former downtown Bennington hotel with a plan to jumpstart economic development across southwestern Vermont.
Bennington has been losing its manufacturing jobs and the region's economy lags the rest of the state, and a group of developers says investing in a historic downtown building could spur business across the region.
The former Hotel Putnam sits in the center of downtown Bennington. In some ways the historic building is a sign of the town's past glory.
But Bill Colvin from the Bennington County Regional Commission says the property might actually be a key to the region's future success.
"This project offers a significant economic benefit to our community," Colvin says. "Just as important, however, is the positive impact a successful project will have on our collective psyche. There may be no more iconic buildings in Bennington than those at the four corners of our downtown.
A local development group has secured a 90-day option to purchase the historic hotel, along with five other buildings on the 4-acre downtown parcel.
Colvin says market rate apartments will anchor the estimated $20 million project.
Preliminary discussions have included Southwestern Vermont Health Care and Southern Vermont and Bennington colleges, who could potentially bring office staff and students to help downtown business.
"We are delighted to have reached an agreement for site control, but the hard work remains ahead," Colvin says. "It will take commitment from the leadership group, support from the Town of Bennington and the State of Vermont and tenants who are willing to work with us to bring this plan from concept to reality."
If the deal closes, Colvin says it will take another year or so to draw up plans for the project.
Jim Brown, the president of Bank of Bennington, says when local business leaders met to discuss the regional economy they recognized the importance of preserving and restoring the historic block.
"The Bennington Redevelopment Group doesn't view this as strictly a real estate transaction, but as an investment to save landmark buildings in the center of our community, breathe new life into them, new life into the downtown, and in turn hopefully spur other investments in Bennington."
Developers from Brattleboro who helped revitalize the fire-damaged Brooks House are also helping with the project.
The Bennington deal will follow that model of using a combination of state and private money, along with federal tax credits to finance the development.
Developers also hope the community will buy in to the project, with commitments that could include delayed paybacks on loans, charitable contributions and investments before ownership to help with upfront costs.