Just north of Randolph on Interstate 89, a light snow covers one of the state's former rest stops. It closed in 2009, as federal funds covered less and less of the operating costs.
Wednesday, public officials signed off on a first-of-its-kind deal to construct a new privately-run facility just off the Randolph exit.
"And it won't cost taxpayers a dime," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
"Don't see a negative, this is a home run," developer Sam Sammis said.
Sammis has run the Three Stallions Inn for more than 40 years. He'll be responsible for building and maintaining a new state visitor center by 2019. To turn a profit, Sammis plans to create a Vermont goods showcase in the same building, and surrounded by light industrial space, residential space, as well as a hotel and convention center. The driving range currently by the site would remain in place, but-- given final approval-- much of the surroundings will be unrecognizable.
State officials say they expect the stop to draw more than half-a-million visitors when it opens, equal to the state's current busiest stop along the Massachusetts border. By building off an exit rather than on the interstate, state officials and Sammis believe the facility will drive more business downtown.
"We're going to promote Randolph like crazy," Sammis said.
Federal guidelines call for rest stops every 60 miles. State officials say operating a facility costs about $350,000 a year, and say it would cost $4 million-$10 million to construct state-run facilities. They say public-private partnerships can help the state conform without stretching the public's shriveled wallet.
Sammis says he's 80 percent of the way to receiving an ACT 250 permit. A rest area in the southbound lane near Randolph still operates, but officials say an outdated sewer system may force it to close soon.
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