SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Over the millennia, the Black River has served as a major transportation, power, and recreational resource to people living in what we now know as Springfield. In recent times the region has seen a shift away from an industrial economy, changing the focus of the downtown riverscape to recreation rather than industrial production. With the help of professional architects and planners, people of Springfield are working toward a new kind of Main Street milieu, complete with a riverside park area progressing from the existing Comtu Cascade Park along the Black River behind what is known as the old Bakery Building.
On July 26, an open meeting of community members, town officials, and planners gathered at Trout River Brewery for beer, Jamaican food, and a chance to review and react to the latest developments in park planning. Bob White of Greenman-Pederson, the transportation planning and urban design firm in charge of the project, made a brief presentation about the past and future of the riverside asset.
Referring to the recent demolition of old buildings on the riverbank, White described the remaining site as a “series of terraces and foundations of concrete and stone, like an archeological site in the middle of the park – making a story that is cool and specific to Springfield.” As he continued to describe the “series of planes” making up the basic infrastructure of the project, he outlined several challenges to using the space, including functional driveway access, possible access for food trucks/other services, the elevation changes challenging ADA access, and the need for flexible seating. After his brief presentation the floor was opened to public input.
Community members offered a variety of suggestions and reactions to the plan, ranging from adding a lighted water feature to repurposing the Jamie Townsend “Stagecoach” mural recently removed from the Hanley Building to creating a dance floor/performance space in the future park.
The park is part of the larger Main Street redesign project funded by VTrans, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Strong Communities, Better Connections group, and matching funds from the town.
Quoting the conclusions of the Brookings Institution 2017 study on “The Reality of Main Street,” the plan states, “Creating thriving small and mid-sized towns is, of course, no small task. It requires local leaders, business owners, and community residents to come together to identify their assets, strategically situate themselves in their regional economy, and develop a shared vision and identity to sell to the world. Communities make this vision a reality by creating quality public spaces, prioritizing local entrepreneurship, emphasizing production, and supporting downtown housing.”