The St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce received $20,000 to revive one of our most central public spaces, historic Depot Square, impacting everyone who lives, shops, works and plays in St. Johnsbury. Tara Holt, director of the Chamber, comments “We envision a series of creative elements designed to enliven the park, which will in the process powerfully impact our entire downtown. Creating a dynamic and attractive gathering space will allow this central public open space to serve as a hub between separated downtown activities, such as the Farmers’ Market, Catamount Arts, the Town Offices and our business district.”
The award is from the just-launched National Life Main Street grant program, which was launched in 2017. In all, $85,500 in grants were awarded to Barre, Bennington, Montpelier, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Waterbury, and Wilmington. The National Life Foundation provided $70,500 of the funding and the Vermont Community Foundation provided $15,000.
In announcing the awards at a ceremony in the statehouse on March 13, Governor Phil Scott congratulated grant recipients and recognized the importance of investing in Vermont’s downtowns: “Strong, dynamic downtowns and villages, coupled with housing working families and young professionals can afford are critical to my Administration’s work to strengthen and grow Vermont’s economy,” said Scott. “The work to revitalize Vermont’s downtowns and villages is a team sport, so I truly appreciate the growing number of state, local, public and private partners who are working to build stronger, more vibrant communities.”
Beth Rusnock, president of the National Life Foundation emphasized the vision of this grant program to spark economic growth, “We’re delighted to be able to support the exciting things happening in Vermont downtowns. The projects that we’ll help fund will drive the local economy, support local culture and help to foster the civic pride that Vermonters take in their communities.”
“The heart of community is a sense of common experience,” said Dan Smith, president of the Vermont Community Foundation. “Vermont should be proud of the work going on across the state to design energetic downtown spaces that bring people together, foster connections and build community. We are excited to be partnering with National Life in exploring how to bring together people and resources to make a difference for these downtowns.”
There were applications for 29 different projects across the state. National Life partnered with the Preservation Trust of Vermont to analyze the projects and recommend funding. In addition to contributing toward the grants, the Vermont Community Foundation is reviewing all of the applications to determine whether they might qualify for additional future funding.
The Depot Square Park project includes installing gathering spaces with benches and picnic tables for residents and visitors to relax, meet, engage, enjoy and reflect, and locally sculpted bike racks that inspire recreational and commuting cyclists.
Anna Rubin, president of the Chamber’s board, comments, “The proposed features will connect our downtown with riverfront access, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, Caledonia Farmer’s Market, and cultural district in a historic and central space that is accessible, welcoming, and visible.”
The St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce is based in the historic Depot Square Welcome Center. Holt explains, “The St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce exists to stimulate and promote the vitality of St. Johnsbury by focusing on the commercial, cultural and community assets of our downtown. We blend the functions of a community business network and a Designated Downtown organization, part of the National Main Street Program, to accomplish community-wide goals.”