New development project eyed by Barres Mayor Lauzon
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | March 19,2013
Stefan Hard / Staff File Photo
Apartment buildings and Summer Street Auto are seen between West Street and Seminary Street on the west side of Summer Street in this aerial photo of the area being eyed for a new development project in Barre.
BARRE — Mayor Thomas Lauzon wants to put a Summer Street redevelopment project “on steroids” by incorporating a senior citizens center and a YMCA-like facility into a proposed complex that he has jokingly referred to as “the son of City Place.”
With City Place under construction on North Main Street, Lauzon has turned his attention to “Summer Street Center” — a facility that, at a minimum, would provide a new home for the Central Vermont Community Land Trust and the tenants of three apartment buildings that would have to be razed to make room for the structure.
“Why stop there?” Lauzon asked over the weekend, while updating the City Council on a project that he helped pitch to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board late last week.
Lauzon told councilors he is exploring the potential for expanding the project to accommodate the recreational needs of some of Barre’s oldest and youngest residents. That, he said, would require the acquisition and demolition of two more Summer Street buildings — one that houses Summer Street Auto and the other, owned by Washington County Mental Health Services, that until recently was home to its CHOICE Academy.
Lauzon said he has reached out to WCMHS Executive Director Paul Dupre, as well as the owner of Summer Street Auto, to discuss redeveloping an entire city block, from Pearl Street to Keith Avenue, on both sides of Summer Street. Those conversations, he stressed, have been very preliminary.
“There have been no commitments,” Lauzon said. “We’re still in the kind of planning stages.”
Still, Lauzon said, acquiring Summer Street Auto would create a footprint for what could be a 30,000-square-foot building on one side of Summer Street, while the demolition of the largely vacant building owned by WCMHS could make room for a parking lot across the street.
The land trust has already acquired two properties, including three apartment buildings that have been targeted for demolition as part of a proposed campus for the organization. Lauzon said that is “pretty much of a sure thing” — he’d just like it to be bigger and better.
“My ‘want’ is to put that project on steroids,” he said.
According to Lauzon, adding an 8,000-square-foot senior center wouldn’t be a big reach, and a YMCA — with an indoor swimming pool — isn’t outside the realm of possibility given the fact the project would be eligible for the same “new markets” tax credits that helped make the financing for City Place work.
Lauzon said parking has already been a challenge for the Barre Area Senior Center and spaces are going to be even harder to find as projects like City Place and the redevelopment of the historic Aldrich and Blanchard blocks continue.
“A lot of the seniors can’t walk six city blocks to get to the senior center,” he said.
Lauzon said it would be reasonably easy to provide seniors with more accessible space and doubted it would be tough to find a buyer for the building they currently occupy on North Main Street.
“I don’t think that building would be empty very long,” he said of the current senior center.
A YMCA-type facility, which was a component of one of the earliest versions of City Place, has long been discussed. Lauzon said the idea has been generally well received.
“It’s a pretty cool start to a project,” he said. “It addresses some needs in the community.”
According to Lauzon, the ground floor of the proposed building would house new offices for the land trust, displaced offices from the WCMHS building across the street, a senior center and a recreation center for youngsters. The building’s second floor would include roughly 30 low-income residential units to replace those that would be demolished.