Downtown districts serve as economic hubs, gathering places for families and friends, and serve as the reference point for a traveler’s first impression—good or bad. Just as important, these areas represent the collective pride of small communities. That’s why officials and citizens of Bennington (pop. 1,022) wasted no time in getting to work to reverse the aging process of its downtown district. Sidewalks, curbs, and gutters needed repair, and a retaining wall that prominently featured into the City’s landscape was deteriorating. The Bennington City Council set about to declare the area blighted and substandard, so it could begin the redevelopment process. The city engineer, mayor, city council members, and members of a downtown committee devoted many long hours to see the project through to completion.
Bennington applied for and received a $25,000 Community Development Block Grant in the planning category to create an overall concept and plan for updating the downtown district’s streetscape, infrastructure, and overall aesthetics. With a plan in place, officials tackled and improved water drainage issues while updating utilities throughout the target area. Green space bump-outs were added to the business district along with an eye-catching artistic metal railing, created by Midwest artist, Tom Schlosser. The railing featured panels that captured the essence of the community throughout a two block area. Each panel was sponsored by individuals and organizations in the community, thus providing the opportunity for community members to truly take pride in its new beautiful artwork and major infrastructure improvements. This planning grant led to future funds that helped revitalize the downtown area and unify the community.