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St. Albans Revitalizes Downtown

Once known as a town on the decline, St. Albans is taking major steps to turn around their local economy- and their reputation. The city has invested millions in new projects designed to do both. Mayor Liz Gamache said revitalization has been in the works for years.

"This is going to go down, I the most extraordinary transformation of a downtown in recent history," - Governor Peter Shumlin

“We’ve seen this struggle and decline in our small, local businesses keeping up and staying here in St.Albans. We’ve seen certainly more than a few leave,” Gamache said.

The city has invested $3 million in a Downtown Streetscape Project to bring more foot traffic and locally-owned businesses to the community.

The money was put into widening the sidewalks, planting trees and improving utilities on Main Street.  Gamache points to several new businesses on Main Street as evidence of the revitalization.

At a street fair celebrating the project’s completion yesterday, local businesses lined Main Street with pop-up tables. A coffee stand was staffed by Vesna Boznic.

Bozic opened The Traveled Cup, a new coffee shop right next to City Hall, on June 1st.  She said when she first moved to St. Albans a year ago, the feel of the city was very different.

“I was a little saddened. It was a dead town last year compared to this year,” she said.

Bozic admits that the rumors she heard about St. Albans at first weren’t flattering. She was warned about high crime rates and drugs, but says she hasn't experienced any of that. She describes the community as “tight-knit and diverse.”

Governor Peter Shumlin has also noticed the changes. Shumlin was at the event to congratulate the city on the streetscape project. When he took the stage, he called it an impressive turnaround.

“This is going to go down, I believe, because of all the people who have been acknowledged tonight, as the most extraordinary transformation of a downtown in recent history,” Shumlin said.

The governor also mentioned a proposal for a 370-space parking garage up for a vote next week. The construction would be possible with "tax increment financing," also known as TIF. The cost is estimated to be about $13 million.

St. Albans is one of six Vermont communities authorized to use TIF, which allows credit against future state taxes to finance public improvement projects.

Mayor Gamache says the garage could also make way for more tourism downtown.

“On the heels of that, it also puts us in a position to attract a hotel. We have a developer who’s interested in locating right in our downtown core where the parking garage would be,” said Gamache.

The public will vote on whether or not to fund the TIF proposal on Tuesday, September 10th.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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