By KATHERINE LAZARUS
CENTRAL PARK, WHERE a lot of the July 4 festivities will be, is new and improved with a gorgeous fountain on the property outside the historic Brandon Inn.
BRANDON — Segment 6 saw its final walkthrough on Thursday, Jun 24 at 10 a.m., a capstone to the $28 million project that revamped downtown Brandon — and a final hurrah to what has been six years of construction in the downtown that culminates this weekend in a revitalized Fourth of July Parade and celebration on Saturday, July 3.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Brandon Chamber executive director Bernie Carr. “We have people coming in every day talking about how walkable and gorgeous the village is… It’s so enjoyable to see some of the old areas get the TLC they needed, and how different areas were perked up by a lot of people who bought into Brandon and supported the town,” referring to The McKernon Group who initially bought the space that Café Provence now occupies, which kicked off the downtown renaissance. With the Segment 6 project done, and other town infrastructure structures completed and many others joining in to renovate various downtown buildings, Carr said, “Everyone is really proud of how great the town looks.”
But it didn’t happen overnight, Town Manager David Atherton recalled.
“This project has been on the books forever,” he explained, noting that it was first discussed way back in 1998, but seriously under consideration with federal funding in 2012, when the town had some troubles moving the project forward. Since 2017, however, with Atherton as town manager, the project rocketed forward, first by breezing through getting the necessary rights of way from abutting property owners, securing federal and state money and firming up that relationship, and then proving the town could manage what has been one of the largest municipally operated projects of its sort in the state.
The project saw 1.3 miles of construction along Route 7 right through the heart of the downtown that saw a complete renovation of the towns water and sewer lines, storm water drainage systems, and burying the town’s electrical, phone and cable wires to eliminate the need for any overhead wires in the downtown from the library to The Bookstore north of the town offices.
In addition, new sidewalks were built, historic light posts were added and trees were planted, and several parks were completely renovated. The work on the parks included expanding the central Green across from the Brandon Inn to include the Memorial War monument, while Kennedy Park by the Neshobe River and Green Park that overlooks the upper falls of the Neshobe on the other side of Route 7 were also refurbished to look more beautiful than ever.
Mixed in with that effort, were separate $1.6 million projects to rebuild state Bridge 114, and another $1.7 million project to put in a larger culvert just above the town office building block to hold high water when the Neshobe floods, as well as a town-led renovation of Park Street, which also included replacing water, sewer lines and stormwater drainage systems, as well as burying electrical, cable and phone lines.
Along the way, the town also secured an unprecedented cost split for the Segment 6 work in which the town contributed just 5% of the total cost, while state picked up 15% of the cost, and the federal government paid the other 80%.
That sort of arrangement, Atherton said, may not “ever happen again,” adding that one of reasons it was all possible was that “the board was very supportive. They knew we needed to get it done and they knew what would happen if we kept kicking the can down the road… And now, just look at it. We are busy!”
“You come down here on the weekends and it’s crazy,” Atherton continued. “I have to say we’re the nicest looking downtown on Route 7 now! We had businesses moving to the downtown right in the middle of the construction because they could see how nice it was going to be. Sure, we lost a few businesses, but we’ve gained more and we now have the Smith Block filled with 12 new apartments, which was full even before the construction was done. We just have this great downtown, and we get to display it this July 3 with the parade and celebration for the first time. It’s exciting, just pretty darn cool.
“This really does celebrate the end of the construction and I’m just happy that we finally got it all done. It’s been a long time coming.”
During Thursday’s walk-through, Project Engineer David Monroe led the walk with VTrans Project Manager Scott Robertson that surveyed the sidewalk projects and any remaining tweaks to be made.
“It’s an amazing change for the town,” Monroe said, noting not only the stunning new look for the town, but also that its safety enhancements were all in place for pedestrians and drivers.
Carr, who was born and raised in Brandon and has been working on downtown improvements for years as a business owner and through the chamber, was beaming ear-to-ear as he walked through the finished product with the other 10 people who had worked on it.
“It’s been talk talk-talk-talk for generations, then it happened. I never dreamed it would happen,” Carr said, noting that the beautification included 196 new trees, timed lampposts, and flowers everywhere.
READY FOR FESTIVITIES
With Brandon’s downtown primed for a party, its famed July 4 celebration will also return downtown for the first time since 2016.
All-day festivities will be held at Central Park, beginning with the parade starting on Park Street at 10 a.m and ending in front of The Bookstore. That will be followed by live music played by Cedar Ridge Band and the annual silent auction at the Congregational Church starting at 11.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m there will be family activities behind the Brandon Inn, including a swiss roll eating contest at noon. The band Moose Crossing will take over the live music at 12:30 to around 3, during which time guests should be sure to head over to Neshobe Falls for a duck race (ducks can be bought in the morning at Central Park).
Finishing up the live music for the night is Neshobe Falls Jazz Band at 3:30 at Kennedy Park, then DJ Primary Instinct will spin family favorites from 6:30-10 p.m. for the street dance. Fireworks, of course, will fill the sky just after sunset and dusk, or not too long after 9 p.m. with the best place to watch them being in the downtown. (The fireworks are set off behind the Smith Block.)
The Fourth of July in Brandon used to be the biggest in the state, and economic development officer Bill Moore is looking to “take back the crown.”
Restaurants will be open, he said, there will be a beer garden in Green Park, food vendors will be serving up favorites all day long, and shuttle services are operating every half hour from the American Legion, Estabrook Park, and OVUHS.
It’s going to be a great Fourth of July, Moore said, and a lot of that is due to all the construction turning out so well. “It really did transform and enhance the beauty and economic vitality of the heart of our town.”