MONTPELIER — "The wait is over!" So proclaimed a news release from Montpelier, heralding the start of the Taylor Street transit center, housing complex and recreation path that drew all the big guns to a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday. After nearly two decades, work on the $12.5 million project funded by federal, state and local money will begin this summer and take a year to complete.
The former one-acre Carr Lott was previously used for state parking, and in earlier years, was the site of a stone yard, rail yard and a scrap materials business. State and local officials who spoke at Tuesday's ceremony include Gov. Phil Scott, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson, and others involved in housing, construction and transportation components of the project.
Watson hailed the project as one of many underway that would change the dynamic of the downtown in the future. "Today we celebrate a major milestone for the 1 Taylor Street project, the day that we start to see the tangible fruits of our labor; the labor of many community, state and federal partners," Watson said. "We're here at this point, ready to begin construction of a bus station, housing, a shared-use and pedestrian path. "This project will provide a safe way for bikes and pedestrians to get through town, it will provide 30 units of critically needed additional housing right in the center of our downtown, and it will provide an indoor shelter for buses, a literal hub of transportation for Montpelier," Watson added.
Watson acknowledged Sen. Leahy and former colleague, Sen. Jim Jeffords, for securing two federal grants totaling $7 million for the project, and praised Gov. Scott for approving a $37 million bond for affordable housing projects in Vermont. City voters also approved two bonds, of $800,000 in 2002 and $710,000 in 2016, for the project, and additional federal and state grants will pay for the $7 million housing component. Along the way, the city had to undergo a costly contaminated soil remediation of the site and led a successful hydraulic analysis and appeal of a determination by FEMA that the site lay within the floodplain. Other project partners — DEW Construction, of Williston, and Green Mountain Transit — were also thanked for their support.
Leahy remembered biking across the site in his early youth to deliver newspapers and his family printing company would dump scrap paper at the site. He also recalled securing the federal funding for the project. "We got transportation and housing, two things we thought were needed back when we got the earmarks that are needed far more today, and I applaud everyone who came together (on the project)," Leahy said. "A lot of other states are doing this, investing in their downtowns, bringing things back where people can walk to what they want to."
Leahy credited DEW Construction and Downstreet Housing and Development, of Barre, for stepping in to take over construction and housing components after former contractor Redstone opted out because of rising development costs. Gov. Scott hailed the start of the project that began when he first ran for a Senate seat. He also credited Downstreet and Housing Vermont as a "natural fit" to pick up the housing component of the project.
"Over the course of the next several months, we will watch the transformation of this vibrant community asset with public transportation at its base, a view of the river from its windows and a recreation path at its doorstep," Scott said. "Thirty new affordable homes will be created as well," Scott added, noting that nearly $2 million of last year's state housing bond would support the project.
"Taylor Street is an excellent example of our goal to revitalize our downtowns to be vibrant, walkable, affordable places where people want to live, work and play." Eileen Peltier, executive director of Downstreet, credited Kathy Beyer, Housing Vermont's vice president of development, for doing the major work to secure funding the project, with the help of the Housing for All revenue bond supported by Scott last year.
"Recognizing we came in a year ago right about now, and to able to be here now is probably about the fastest fast-track we've ever done in this, so thank you, Kathy," Peltier said. "Together we are thrilled to be here today, celebrating the groundbreaking for 1 Taylor Street, and the Taylor Street apartments that will bring 30 new much-needed rental units to the city. Nineteen will be affordable to low-income Vermonters, and 11 will be affordable to moderate-income Vermonters."
Other speakers included Mark Souza, general manager of Green Mountain Transit who welcomed the new transit center that will provide a stop for the Greyhound bus service. Contractor Don Wells, of DEW Construction, credited the persistence of many involved on a project. City Manager Bill Fraser also thanked the participants, and credited Peltier and Wells, and project architects Gossens Bachman, of Montpelier. He also singled out Montpelier attorney Jon Anderson who first pushed the City Council to put together a committee to explore that Taylor Street project and helped write the grants for funds. "I believe none of us would be here if it weren't for the efforts of Jon Anderson," Fraser added.