With all the work to market Rutland as a recreation destination, you might think there should be an outdoor-gear shop downtown.
That’s what the people working on the rewrite of the downtown strategic plan think, too.
The potential for businesses such as an outdoor gear outfitter, bike shop, indoor rock climbing gym or “ax throwing and archery bar” was among the findings in the first-phase analysis compiled by Camoin Associates as they work with the Downtown Rutland Partnership and Rutland Redevelopment Authority on the rewrite.
RRA Executive Director Brennan Duffy said there have been efforts to target just such a business, but none have yet borne fruit.
“There are certainly some open retail spaces right now,” he said.
The report also noted those open spaces, saying that there did not seem to be much demand for more retail downtown, nor much demand for office space — though it did suggest the medical field could take up some of the empty spaces downtown.
It seconded the calls for more housing downtown, and suggested seniors as a target population for downtown apartments.
“We have this senior population of folks that are looking to downsize, sell their property in a rural area and move somewhere there’s less maintenance and they can walk,” Duffy said.
Making sure they can walk is also going to be a priority.
“One of the things that we seem to continue to hear is that walkability is valued,” said Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey. “Even though we are a fairly walkable city in my mind, I am an individual who has no accessibility issues.”
Humphrey, who serves as chairwoman of the Community and Economic Development Committee — at least until the Board of Aldermen reorganizes next week — said the city needs to look at what creates the perception of parts of downtown not being walkable and do marketing or improvements as necessary. Also, she noted that a proposal for a study of city sidewalks is pending in her committee.
Also pending in Humphrey’s committee is a review of the city’s business incentive program, which she said could lead to some discussion of how the city might help convert upper floors of downtown buildings into housing. Such developments have always faced financial challenges from the improvements that would be needed to bring them up to modern building standards. The need for elevators frequently comes up as a particularly expensive roadblock.
Duffy said he anticipates discussions of what can be done on a municipal level to help develop housing downtown.
“Whether that would be elevators or something more general is something we would want to talk to people about,” he said.
Mayor David Allaire said he also anticipated such discussions, and wanted to pay particular mind to what state incentives were available.
Aside from walking, the report discussed seating downtown, noting that a number of people complained of a lack of places to sit and a lack of “high-quality outdoor places.” This has particularly been the case since seating and vegetation were removed from Depot Park following a series of incidents between city police and people hanging out there.
Duffy noted that Center Street Marketplace Park, which opened after renovations were completed on the former Center Street alley, has not had the sort of problems that plagued Depot Park.
“I feel like that kind of proves this can happen successfully,” he said. “I think overall, we want to make downtown an inviting place to spend time.”
Allaire said he was open to exploring more park space in downtown despite having again removed the benches after initially restoring them early in his administration.
“I was more concerned about one particular area, and that was Depot Park,” Allaire said. “We do have benches strategically placed around downtown that don’t run into those problems. ... As far as Depot Park, after talking with the police department several times, I don’t think we’ll be changing that course.”
Duffy said Camoin is now working with stakeholders on specific goals, strategies and action steps, and that he expects a final community presentation in mid-April.