There is a hole in the middle of Burlington they are trying to fill and are two years behind schedule. There is a scandal-plagued hole in the middle of Newport they are trying to fill. Good luck. And there is a hole in the middle of downtown St. Albans which was created several months ago, and yesterday, the filling began to be filled.

At a ceremony yesterday, amidst gray skies and the season’s first snow, the principals donned their hard hats and tossed the first spades of dirt [mud, really] into the air. The corner of Congress and Main streets will quickly evolve from the hole that exists into a framework soon to be the new home to the Community College of Vermont, and a sophisticated downtown location for Northwestern Medical Center.

It will be a continuation of the city’s TIF project, one that has completely rebuilt the city’s downtown and its economic center. But it’s also the first time we’ve been able to incorporate an educational institution in our midst, which could be a game changer, both for the downtown and for CCV.

The foot traffic that will be generated through the college should bring a new and different level of energy to St. Albans. CCV itself is comprised of 500 students and faculty that will use the facility on a regular basis. The sorts of businesses that depend on that demographic will find the city deeply appealing. The fact that CCV will have a much higher profile should help attract more students. It’s a success begets success proposition.

This educational profile will be added to by Northwestern Medical Center as it twins its need for nursing and its community outreach efforts. This will include RiseVt and Lifestyle medicine. NMC and CCV will also be partnering with Vermont Technical College on the nursing education aspect.

The opportunities for both abound.

The first floor — street level — would be the future home of four 1,000 square foot retail spaces. Together, the 25,000 square foot building would take the architectural look of the city up several notches. The combination of these various entities and their missions will add a progressive element to the city’s downtown [and it doesn’t hurt that CCV will be within walking distance of Bellows Free Academy, who knows what synergies might be discovered.]

On the east side of the “hole” — the one facing Maiden Lane — will be a significant housing effort. One part of the housing will be regular market rate apartments, the other will be affordable housing. Again, this upgrade should add to the increased foot traffic that makes modern downtowns most attractive. The more people traffic we can generate the more appealing downtown becomes to others and to those of us who already call it home.

It’s a $20 million project, and it’s a stunning piece of the city’s revitalization efforts that began with a streetscape project seven years ago, in 2012.

Who would have thought that in those fortunate seven years that we’d have a remodeled Main Street, most of the city’s sidewalks rebuilt, an ultra-modern parking garage, a new downtown hotel, an Ace Hardware store, a remodeled city hall, a new state office building and various upgrades of buildings and roads connect to the above?

Nuts, right?

And there is more to come. There has to be. When you build something new and people like what you’ve done and the taxpayers support it overwhelmingly, then you begin to think even more creatively.

That’s where we are.

by Emerson Lynn

What do you think?