Med Kopczynski, Keene’s director of economic development initiatives and special projects, says progress may have slowed due to the pandemic, but projects are not being canceled or shelved. He notes that the city has a list of capital improvement projects that could become candidates for potential stimulus funding from the federal government. He believes any slowing down of projects can be attributed to uncertainty about the future and the need for social distancing even on construction sites.
At the time of the interview, the city was remotely issuing permits, conducting plan reviews and doing inspections. Construction was deemed essential business under federal and state guidelines.
Keene City Councilor Michael Remy says it is more important than ever to look at the future of the city and to do everything possible to be ready for potential funding opportunities.
“No one knows how federal or state aid to the city and region will be administered or what exactly it will be targeted towards, so it is in the best interest of the city to be ready in case — as has happened in the past — this funding comes directed at job creation through ‘shovel ready’ projects,” he adds. “These funds could help us move the city’s initiatives along faster than anticipated with no incremental impact to local taxpayers. We are all anxious to hear what potential funding may look like and figure out how to make sure Keene gets as much benefit as we can.”
ON SCHEDULE: WINCHESTER’S BUSINESS PARK
Winchester Economic Development Corp. Chairman Mark Tigan says his group is hopeful that the 63-acre Stone Mountain Business Park project will continue on course. The goal is to begin construction of the road, and other infrastructure by June then finish up in September or October.
Tigan says his group was concerned about getting bids before the pandemic because contractors were so busy.
“In fact, in previous public works in the region, there has been some dearth of bidding because everyone had enough work or too much work, and that was exacerbated by it being hard to find labor,” he says. “Now, however, we’re seeing a little more interest in bidding because some of the work on the table has been removed temporarily, but ours seems to be proceeding. So we’re cautiously optimistic that given all the unknowns, we’re probably on the better side now than we were before the outbreak.”
His group is starting to explore the possibility of securing some newly available federal funds associated with the pandemic to construct a business incubator building. Tigan envisions a 20,000-square-foot building split into four areas with separate docks and entrances.
MOVING FORWARD: KEENE’S ARTS CORRIDOR
Plans for an arts corridor in downtown Keene are continuing to move forward, says Arthur Robert, president of Monadnock Economic Development Corp. His group hired Stevens & Associates of Brattleboro, Vermont, to develop a conceptual plan.
“It’s a project that is thought out, but it’s not as developed in detail just yet,” notes Robert.
His group also is involved with a project to bring a business hub to Winchester Street on the Keene State College campus. Kelly Ricaurate, director of strategic communications and community relations, says the pandemic has not slowed down the project, which is in its planning phases.
“It’s an important project for the city, the college, and the business partners who are in desperate need of a trained workforce,” adds George Hansel, mayor of Keene.
Robert says his group is in contact with potential funders. He also is looking at what federal money might become available for regional projects.
“Certainly when the pandemic forces a shutdown of nonessential businesses, you’re going to have a significant effect on the economy,” he says. “That’s certainly out there.”
His group also is having conversations with the state about getting additional funds to help small businesses.
EXPANSION ON TRACK: BRATTLEBORO MUSEUM & ART CENTER
Peter Elwell, town manager of Brattleboro, Vermont, says he isn’t aware of any major projects that will be delayed due to the virus.
“I have had some communication regarding projects that are continuing forward in various stages of planning during this time,” he adds. “It is possible that those that are ready for construction might be delayed due to the requirements of social distancing.”
Danny Lichtenfeld, director of Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, says plans are moving forward for a $30 million expansion project still in its fundraising phase.
“It’s a bit early for us to know how the pandemic is going to affect our project,” Lichtenfeld notes. “It’s possible that it will make fundraising more difficult, but it’s also possible that prospective funders will appreciate the economic-development project value of our project even more than before.”
A new 55,000-square-foot building on Main Street in Brattleboro will feature a gallery space and classrooms, 24 apartments overlooking the Connecticut River, a café with outdoor seating, a rooftop sculpture garden and terraces. Before the pandemic hit, fundraising efforts had been expected to go into the summer.
Chris Mays writes from South Newfane, Vermont.