$27 million dollar project going into downtown White River Junction


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Eric Francis

Ground breaking right next to Northern Stage

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT - A year from now, the Village at White River Junction, a five-story assisted living facility expected to house about 90 residents being cared for by 50 staff members in an innovative $27 million dollar building packed so tightly into a zig-zagging piece of property that it resembles a game of Tetris, will be opening its doors and transforming what for decades has been little more than a parking area at the back edge of the downtown.

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    "White River Junction is in this sweet spot now where it's not just emerging, it has emerged!" Village project architect Lou Bieker from Denver told nearly a hundred people who gathered Monday afternoon right next door to Northern Stage's new theater complex for a ground breaking ceremony.

    Bieker recalled the first time, eleven years ago, when he looked down on the space alongside property owner Byron Hathorn from the vantage point of the roof of the Hotel Coolidge and began thinking about how to fit an assisted living and memory care unit into the space behind the church that sits at the corner of Gates and Currier Streets.

    "The big idea was to create a vertical main street," Bieker said.  "I thought `Wouldn't it be cool if the energy of the downtown could flow toward this naturalized landscape?'," where a steep wooded slope rises towards the terraces above the core of White River Junction.  "Eleven years later, this unconventional facility is being built.  It's a space that we want to be porous and public and open to the community."

Lou Bieker of 4240 Architecture of Denver explains his unusual building design

    While the residents of the upscale facility are going to have everything from their own rooftop gardens and a pub, a dog spa, art gallery spaces along with a barber shop, craft studios, resident lounges and dining rooms, what the downtown as a whole stands to gain is more customers for restaurants, the theater scene, and a big boost to the tax base from both the residents and the employees, ranging from executive staff to nurses, landscapers and cooks, who will be working for them.

Hartford Native Byron Hathorn is the owner and developer of the long-dormant property

Hartford Planning and Development Director Lori Hirshfield addressed the crowd Monday

    "We're going to get quite a bit of new tax revenue because of this development," Hartford Director of Planning and Development Lori Hirshfield told the crowd Monday, pointing out that the Tax Increment Financing District bonds that voters have approved in recent years at town meeting were being used to lay in the infrastructure that is enabling the construction along Currier Street.  "This really is the extension of Currier Street" into something usable, Hirshfield said.  "This project is the opportunity to create this street."

Nick Estes of Estes & Gallup, the project's Lyme, NH-based contractor, spoke about the details

    Contractor Nick Estes of Lyme's Estes & Gallup explained that so far "just to get us out of the ground" and to the point where it is now possible to start construction the actual building, workers have already driven 700 tons of steel into the base of the hillside, mostly in the form of sheet piles to stabilize the steep slope, and so far 4,000 cubic yards of concrete have been poured over another 200 tons of steel rebar.

    Estes said that 70 percent of the sub-contractors on the project are local and thus much of the construction money is being injected back into the economy of the Upper Valley.

Windsor County Senator Dick McCormack talked about the revitalization of downtown White River

Mark Clough of Community National Bank put together a total of five banks to participate in the financing

Visionary developer Matt Bucy, responsible for much of the downtown's revitalization in recent years, was on hand

Northern Stage Managing Director Eric Bunge and Stuart Johnson attended

David and Peggy Briggs, owners of the Hotel Coolidge, and long-time friends of Hathorn checked out the site

    Hathorn's development company, Gates & Dickerson, the firm which redeveloped the Amtrak train station at the heart of White River Junction several years ago, chose Life Care Services of Des Moines, Iowa, the third largest operator of housing for seniors in the country, to manage the Village facility.  Several representatives of LCS, a company which has been around for 40 years and which currently has about 135 facilities across the country with 35,000 residents, were on hand Monday.

Gates & Dickson President Brooke Ciardelli said that seniors will be a part of the downtown rather than isolated from it.

    "Byron (Hathorn) had this piece of land for years and we think this is a pretty unique town and region...and LCS is hands down the best," said Gates & Dickerson President Brooke Ciardelli of Norwich, who back in the 1990s founded the Village's next door neighbor, Northern Stage, an entity on which Hathorn, a native of Hartford, served for many years on the board.

    "I grew up here.  I live here.  This is so powerful for me," Hathorn said Monday, growing emotional as he thanked his wife and his mother for their support.  "We are so proud of this," Hathorn concluded, "And a year from now we cannot wait for the opening day on the fifth floor!"

An overjoyed Hathorn spoke about how the project came to fruition over the course of more than a decade

Vermont News can be contacted at vermontnews802@gmail.com

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