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Bristol gets big grant for downtown updates

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By KATHRYN FLAGG

BRISTOL — Bristol’s Prince Lane — the alley space that runs behind the buildings on the north side of Main Street adjacent to the Shaw’s and Rite Aid parking lots — is slated for a makeover, thanks to federal and state funding approved this year.

Bristol was one of five towns tapped last week by the Vermont Downtown Development Board to share more than $300,000 in state grants to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements in their downtowns, officials announced last week.

Bristol’s $74,772 piece of that pie, in addition to $241,000 in federal earmark money secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last winter, will be used to bury utility and power lines, build a new sidewalk to open up access to the rear of the buildings, clean up neglected areas and improve pedestrian safety.

“The stars were all aligned,” said Bristol Downtown Community Partnership board member Larry Buck, who last week joined Town Administrator Bill Bryant and BDCP President Kevin Harper for a presentation to the Downtown Development Board on the grant proposal.

The plan to bury the utility lines has been in the works for years, according to Bryant. A group that eventually became the Downtown Designation committee conceived the project at least three years ago, while working on achieving official Downtown Designation status, which made Bristol eligible for this grant funding.

Motivation for burying utility lines is “primarily aesthetic,” Bryant said, but those improvements will also allow for new sidewalk construction, which will, in turn, let Main Street businesses provide more handicap-accessible entrances to their buildings.

Buck and Bryant both said that they also hope the improvements will encourage business owners to “spruce up” the rear entrances and backsides to their buildings. 

“It’s all private property back there,” said Buck, who also noted that the owners of the Shaw’s (which completed a big remodeling project late last month) and Rite Aid property have been cooperative and helpful with improvements. “We’re working together to make it a safer and more accessible parking area. It’s going to enhance the business climate.”

Bryant said that, while it’s possible the town will actually have more money than they estimated necessary for the improvement projects several years ago, “some significant construction cost inflation” could mean that the projects will exceed the budget.

“We’ll probably be doing some kind of work with the project scope to try to work within the grant funds that we have,” Bryant said. “At this point, we have enough money to say, ‘Let’s go forward,’ … even if we have to cut back.”

Bryant said he’d love to see work happen during the summer of 2009, but that is an “ambitious schedule.”

“It could extend to the summer of 2010, but that should be very doable,” he said.

Bennington, Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland were also chosen as recipients of the transportation grant, which was created to support downtown transportation projects through the Vermont Downtown Program.

The program has, to date, designated 23 downtown areas and 83 village centers throughout the state.

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