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After 20 years, Union Station project finally under way

Brattleboro looks at site as a gateway to town, anticipating economic boost

BRATTLEBORO—After more than two decades of delays, financial problems, legal issues, and other problems, a project to revitalize the area around Union Station has begun.

The first step took place two weeks ago, when a stretch of summer-like weather allowed Zaluzny Excavating Corp. of Vernon to do what it planned to do late last year before Tropical Storm Irene intervened—tear down the old Gasworks and Scalehouse buildings near the Hinsdale Bridge.

Following demolition, crews capped the soil with fresh loam. The work went quickly enough that the town was able to hold a groundbreaking ceremony March 29 for what will soon be a riverfront park.

“Somebody said to me earlier, ‘Why are you having a groundbreaking, since it already happened,’” said Veronica Johnson, one of the original members of the Union Station Steering Committee.

“Part of this is having a big celebration for the committee because we had been working so long with so many delays,” she added. “We’re just thrilled that its starting to happen and that there’s more to come.”

The structure known as the Archery Building is still standing. According to Town Manager Barbara Sondag, the building is a historical structure, and the town is soliciting ideas about what can be done with it.

The town is spending about $825,000 to improve the waterfront property off Depot Street, with the Federal Transit Authority, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Central Vermont Public Service kicking in funding.

A gateway to Brattleboro

This first phase of the Union Station project adds 17 parking spaces, with space for another 11 spaces in the future. Also planned are improved lighting, a vehicle turnaround, and a bus shelter.

“With the activity at the museum, and with the Riverview Cafe reopening as the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery, I think this is a pretty darn exciting area of town to be in,” said Sondag. “When people come in on the train, this is the first area that they see, so I think we can do more to make this a nice gateway to Brattleboro.”

Still to come are improvements to the historic 1909 station, which now houses the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center on the upper floor, and an Amtrak station in the basement.

The Brattleboro station is one of the busiest in Vermont, and it could become even busier once upgrades to the rail line between Brattleboro and Springfield, Mass., speed travel times and return passenger trains to the Connecticut River Valley route through Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke, Mass., on the way to Springfield, New Haven, Conn., and New York City.

These upgrades, known as the Knowledge Corridor project after all the colleges on the route between New Haven and Brattleboro, offer new opportunities for the town, said Carl Fowler, another charter member of the Union Station Steering Committee.

“With the Knowledge Corridor project, there’s a possibility that we will be served by more than just one train a day in a couple of years,” said Fowler. “What a treasure we have down here.”

But to Sondag, the most exciting part of this project is that it finally gives downtown Brattleboro a public green space beside the Connecticut River.

“For years, the towns along the Connecticut turned their backs on the river,” she said. “This is our opportunity to open this space and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #146 (Wednesday, April 4, 2012).

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