by Michael Bielawski
Montpelier was one of seven communities in the state to be awarded money from the Main Street Grants program. Grant awards from the program are intended to improve infrastructure, parks, buildings, signage, and other downtown improvements. In all, $85,000—$70,500 from the National Life Group Foundation and $15,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation—was paid out to seven Vermont communities: Barre, Bennington, Montpelier, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Waterbury, and Wilmington.
Montpelier received $9,000, which will go to “wayfinding” signage to highlight historic and cultural sites throughout the city as well as need-to-find spots such as parking and municipal services.
At the helm the project is David Markow, president of Montpelier Alive. He also wrote the grant proposal to help make this possible. “A couple of years ago, the business community and the Montpelier Business Association brought to Montpelier Alive an idea for doing new wayfinding signage for the city,” he said. “And it was also around the same time that the city did rebranding for a whole range of things around the city, and Montpelier Alive did as well.”
He added the city council has been a key supporter, and working together, they found money within the budget of the downtown investment district to advance the project. This money is in addition to the newly obtained grant money.
City manager Bill Fraser said his staff has been working on this as well. “We’re very excited,” Fraser said. “It’s been a long time in planning, and we’re glad to see some results. I think generally there’s a sense that signage for parking and major attractions is considered a best practice, to have a good-looking sign plan that people can count on.”
They have budgeted for two phases in the project. One is to scope out locations and designs. This included hiring a consultant for the past year. This stage is “nearly complete,” Markow said.
Next is the “fabrication and installation phase.” This includes more fundraising in addition to the Main Street Grants money. They will then return to the city council with a final plan over the next month. Surface Matter Design, which is based in Providence, Rhode Island, was selected for the construction of the signs after a request-for-proposals process.
Three entry points into the city will get special welcoming signs, one near the high school, one near the rotary on the Barre-Montpelier Road, and another by the rotary near the middle school. These signs will be more about letting people know they are entering Montpelier, whereas the signs within the city will be more instructional.
This plan has also been approved by the Montpelier Transportation Committee and other relevant state agencies. Kevin Casey of the city’s Planning and Development Department said he thinks this is grant money well-spent.
“I think anybody who has lived here has experienced standing in front of City Hall and having somebody come up and ask, ‘Is that the State House?’” he said. “If your focus is on tourism and making downtown more accessible, it’s a great project. This will point people to the important sights.”
He noted there are some big changes coming soon to the downtown area and this project will help point people to the new locations. For instance, there’s going to be a new transit center, new bike path connections, and there’s currently a new hotel proposal.
“The downtown is going to change dramatically,” he said.
He also noted this could be a good opportunity to create some cohesiveness and themes from one neighborhood to the next. He said when you go to other communities that are known tourist areas, there is often attractive looking and consistent signage.
“You can start to see those little designs that make a big difference,” he said.
Meanwhile, another project from the Main Street Grants program is just down the road in Barre. They are getting $5,500 for a historic walking area in the downtown as well as a bicycling connection to Graniteville.
Governor Scott has commented on the grants, praising downtown development in all the communities involved. “The work to revitalize Vermont’s downtowns and villages is a team sport, so I truly appreciate the growing number of state, local, public, and private partners who are working to build stronger, more vibrant communities,” he said.
Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for The Bridge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.