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2008: A watershed year for Middlebury

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The year 2008 may mark one of the turning points in the Middlebury’s history. It will be the year town residents committed to building the Cross Street Bridge, approved a $16 million bond and agreed to change the town’s charter to allow for the implementation of local option taxes. All were enormously important decisions.

But it will likely also mark the beginning of a renaissance in community betterment.

Let’s count the ways:

• This summer, after almost a decade in the making, Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater comes back to life. The extraordinary $6 million renovation of that historic building will have been completed and Middlebury’s arts scene will be more vibrant than ever before.

• A riverfront committee is making plans to continue improvement on the banks of the Otter Creek just below the falls, following up on work that began this past fall. If all goes according to plan, an outside amphitheater will get underway that will provide several rows of riverside seating (just above and beside the footbridge near the Marble Works’ picnic tables) and the potential for musical and theatric entertainment in the summer and fall when the weather permits.

That’s just one part of a long-range plan to more fully utilize the Otter Creek’s shoreline through the length of the town and beyond. Better canoe and boat access and egress points are also in the works, making it more convenient for boaters to appreciate the creek. Expanded parks and a running/walking path along the creek are also in the planning stages.

• Another committee in town is working on expanding and improving the arts and entertainment scene in Middlebury, and will not only work with the Town Hall Theater, but dovetail with the many other activities going on in this increasingly active arena. Another community effort spawned the successful Green Energy Expo this past weekend, and is developing plans to tap into other innovative ideas connected to the “green energy” movement.

• Yet another committee, each of which was sparked by the ‘creative economy’ effort of a year ago, is contemplating how to facilitate incubator sites so new businesses can grow their roots here in the land of milk and honey. In connection with that effort, perhaps a revitalized Middlebury Economic Development Corp. could focus on rebuilding the town’s industrial and commercial base. (We have all the natural assets a town needs; we just need a more aggressive team to pursue opportunities and make our own good fortunes come true.)

• In Cornwall, an effort there has allocated matching money to build an expanded shoulder on Route 30 to accommodate runners and bikers — making a far safer and more enjoyable recreational path for many college students and area residents. Hopefully a future grant will allow a similar effort on Route 125 west to Cider Mill Road, completing a loop run or bike for area residents and students.

• In the area of housing, Middlebury has ample projects on the planning boards and several recently completed apartment and condominium units, plus assisted living quarters. That all bodes well for the future, allowing existing financial institutions to work with builders and residents to live in planned developments close to work and schools — a necessary ingredient when hoping to attract new employers.

• Looking at the big picture, the overwhelming community support of the Cross Street Bridge (more than a two-to-one margin in support of the $16 million bond) is a terrific message that speaks to a desire by area residents not just to see Middlebury solve its traffic problems, but also to realize the community’s potential.

The Cross Street Bridge may well be the catalyst that energizes more downtown development, expands the downtown’s effective borders, and creates the critical mass needed to help the retail community remain vibrant. More importantly, it symbolizes the collective energy, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good that sets the stage for continued success and growth.

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We all want to live in a thriving community that buzzes with excitement and unlimited potential. That doesn’t mean the community has to be booming with new development or so busy the constant hum makes you yearn for peace and quiet; rather, it means that opportunities are ever-present for current residents and for the next generation. At base, we want a community that will enable our kids — if and when they choose to return home and settle down — to find good jobs and raise a family close by.

Besides the necessary economic activity that provides jobs, what that may also mean is that we’ll want to be on the cutting edge of technology and energy efficiencies; we’ll want to be part of new movements in local foods; and we’ll want to have the opportunities (that is, ease of access) to be smart and responsible consumers. While area residents come from many diverse backgrounds, what we have in common is an appreciation of our tight-knit communities; what we seek are avenues and locales in which to congregate, socialize and share the bounty of each day with each other.

The greater Middlebury area has much already, but the stage has been set for 2008 to bring many of these assets together in a coherent whole that hasn’t been seen for several decades. The challenge for the moment is to make sure these current tasks are brought to fruition; the challenge for tomorrow is to build on that progress and keep the ball rolling.

Angelo S. Lynn

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