Pandemic spurs redevelopment plan in downtown Rutland

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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) Stores and shops are opening up around Vermont but with limits set by the state to keep the coronavirus in check. Our Olivia Lyons takes a look at what's happening in downtown Rutland where the pandemic shutdown helped spur a redevelopment plan.

"We need to find different ways for our businesses to work and to survive," said Steve Peters of the Downtown Rutland Partnership.

Businesses in the downtown Rutland area are starting to reopen.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has approved outdoor seating for restaurants, but not all of them have space. The Downtown Rutland Partnership is generating ideas with businesses and property owners to change the layout of Center Street for the summer. This would allow the extra space for businesses to set up outside to help provide economic recovery.

"There is an urgency now and we would love to respond to that and make some changes," Peters said.

One of the proposed designs narrows the driving lane on Center Street. That would allow for the sidewalk to be extended for restaurants and stores to put tables and things outside for customers.

"I live, eat, drink, sleep, everything downtown Center Street," Lois Miller said.

Miller is the manager at Avanti Hair Salon and lives upstairs from the business. She supports altering the layout of the street for this summer and possibly long term. Miller would like to see something similar to Church Street in Burlington.

"Why not have a community around where you can walk around all day or night and you can sit down and dine and drink, or whatever," she said. "I just think it would be such a benefit."

At the Truffle Company, business can be hit or miss these days.

"It's a difficult climate to work in," said Stephen Montanez of the Truffle Company. "I know, talking with a lot of other business owners on the streets, people sharing ideas, a lot of collaboration and recommendations."

Montanez says the downtown businesses are lucky to be in a city that wants to work so closely with them.

Jessi Travers Moulton, who owns the consignment boutique Unlimited Potential one street over from Center Street, is excited about the possible change.

"I think it will bring a lot more people downtown. I think people will feel safer downtown, more at ease going into places," Travers Moulton said.

She says having a business downtown isn't always the easiest, but it is rewarding.

Miller, the hair salon manager, says a change like this is big for a smaller downtown area.

"Every single business has to be focused on everything around it because if your next-door neighbors aren't getting paychecks, they're not coming next door to spend money," Miller said.

Because of the coronavirus, Rutland City had to cancel its weekly summer event, Friday Night Live. Moving forward with this project would create a new reason for people to go downtown.