On June 10, 2020

Think bigger, bolder – Let’s really revitalize downtown Rutland

Dear Editor,

Vibrant. That’s a word you will never hear to describe Rutland, Vermont. A few months back the Rutland Herald published a letter from myself calling for the closing of Center Street between Wales and Merchants row for the summer months. I also had sent a letter to Brennan Duffy with the Rutland Development Authority, Steve Peters with the Rutland Downtown Partnership and the Mayor, I also copied Mary Cohen with the Chamber. Steve recommended I attend a February meeting at CCV where discussion of ideas how to move Rutland forward were going to be heard. Before the meeting began I asked if I could make a statement which they allowed. The gist of my statement was that persons such as myself who live in Shrewsbury come to Rutland to do errands and then leave as soon as their errands are done. Why do they I leave? Like most people there is absolutely no reason to spend any time in the downtown. Downtown is dead, dull, nothing going on. We divided into groups after my speech and later every group discussed with the group their ideas. Every idea but mine was a medium or long term idea for the downtown. Mine was the only one that could make things happen right away.

Almost every time I visit Costco in Colchester I make time to visit Church Street in downtown Burlington. Church Street is vibrant. Lots of people, entertainment and in summer months lots of places to have a relaxing bite or drink outside. I found the same in a recent visit to Ithaca, New York which also has a wonderful area where the streets are blocked off to traffic. There were people everywhere, music and all the shops were busy. Rutland, ha.

It doesn’t matter what time of year, there is never anyone hanging around Center Street. I measured Center Street between Wales and Merchants row. It’s a 10th of a mile long and approximately 72 feet from sidewalk to sidewalk. I then took the time to draw up a diagram for the block including picnic tables, kiosks, a two person stage and plenty of outdoor seating for the food establishments to set up outside. I sent the diagram along with how the plan could work, both are attached. Not one of the four ever thanked me for at least taking the time and making the effort. Not a peep.  One of the main thoughts from the CCV meeting was there is absolutely nowhere in downtown for someone who works downtown to eat lunch outside, I addressed that in my plan.

Recently the heads of the terrific Rutland Farmers Market requested from the mayor to expand the market to Center Street because of the limitations set forth on space because of Covid 19. The mayor said no because he had “reservations”. To me that’s the attitude of looking for reasons not to do something than looking for reasons to do something.  I went down to Center Street the first Saturday of the market about noon. There were three people on the north sidewalk and absolutely no one on the south side, it was a lovely day. Maybe a quarter of the parking spaces were being used. Dead. Dull. There were more empty store fronts than people. I ask, what don’t the people running the city in charge get?

So I went down again today, another nice day. The market was hopping as was Walmart, Price Chopper and the other businesses in the shopping center. This time there were two people on the north side and again no one on the south. Barely any parking spaces being used. I even took pictures which are attached. Dead, dull. Again more empty store fronts than people.

I was an upper level manager at Okemo for 25 years. Obviously I have a different managerial style than the mayor. The people that set up in the market and the people that run it are wonderful progressive people. I would have trusted them and said “Let’s do it’! And then if it ended up not working, shut it down. Does anyone know of a less progressive town/leadership than Rutland in the state?

A couple days ago a business owner on Center stated in the Herald that the main reason people don’t come downtown is that there’s no parking as the downtown employees are unfortunately using some of the spaces. That’s ridiculous, I have never had a problem finding parking during the day on Center, Wales or Merchants row. People don’t come downtown because there’s no reason to come unless you have an errand to accomplish and then of course they leave as there is no reason to stay.

Finally got a haircut the other day. Coincidentally my hair person was on a committee 15 or so years ago and many persons on the committee agreed that Center Street should be shut to traffic in the summer. Of course that never happened. Heck with the parking, wouldn’t it be nice for the businesses to have people milling around on the closed block enjoying a nice day and doing some window shopping. Even the businesses in other parts of downtown would benefit. Most of all people would have a reason to spend time downtown.

Anyway, thanks for listening. There’s still time to act for July through Labor Day.

Larry Abelman, Shrewsbury

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