"[Gov.] Shumlin would not say how many employees would work out of the new [Barre] office complex. He’ll outline the plan in further detail in his budget address Thursday."
Article published Jan 10, 2012
Shumlin says state jobs headed to Barre
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau
BARRE — At least a portion of the roughly 1,500 state employees displaced from their Waterbury offices in August will be relocated permanently to Barre, the governor said Monday.
In an editorial board meeting with the Rutland Herald and The Times Argus, Gov. Peter Shumlin said downtown Barre will host a “21st century workspace” for a number of state workers driven out of Waterbury by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene.
“I feel very strongly that as we solve the crisis with relocating state employees, that Barre is included in that commitment,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin would not say how many employees would work out of the new office complex. He’ll outline the plan in further detail in his budget address Thursday.
“I think (Barre Mayor) Thom Lauzon and his team have come up with a great plan, and that the state of Vermont should partner with them to make sure we have some of our state workforce in downtown Barre,” Shumlin said.
Lauzon, who has been lobbying heavily for a share of the state workers, said the news is “fantastic for the people of Barre.”
“If you want to know what this means for this city, just go talk to our merchants downtown,” Lauzon said. “They’ve been struggling for five years now, and this is going to be just a huge shot in the arm for them. I’ve got to give the governor a huge shout-out for this.”
Shumlin in recent months had toured with Lauzon the site of a proposed office complex on Barre’s North Main Street, once occupied by Brooks Drugs. Lauzon said detailed plans for the facility, being called “City Place,” won’t be unveiled until a news conference later this month.
Shumlin, however, said Lauzon “is basically proposing they build a flood-resistant, clean, green building in the center of downtown.”
“It’s a very exciting proposal … that incorporates office space, housing, commerce and grocery stores,” Shumlin said. “If Vermont can strengthen its downtowns as a result of Irene, we’re rebuilding the state better than Irene found us. This is a specific example of how we turn Irene into opportunity. And Barre needs jobs.”
The state’s needs for the space, Lauzon said, will figure heavily in the final design.
“It’s all conceptual still, because one of the big drivers is which department the state eventually relocates there,” Lauzon said. “Being the largest occupant of the building, the state of Vermont is certainly entitled to that, and they need to be at the table as we’re picking a developer.”
Lauzon said it’s still unclear exactly how many state employees will be coming to the Granite City.
“Whether it’s 200, 300, 400 or more remains to be seen,” Lauzon said. “Because (Shumlin) has appropriately not shared what the ultimate plan is.”
Shumlin had said that long-term plans for the relocation of state employees would be on hold pending the release of feasibility plans from an architecture firm hired last week to draft redevelopment plans for the 49-building Waterbury office complex.
The state has spent $25 million to stabilize the complex after floodwaters inundated nearly all the buildings. Shumlin has said he won’t restore the complex to a hub of government activity unless he’s assured that it won’t flood again.
Final decisions about how and where to replace the lost office complex amount to a policy decision that will require legislative approval.
At least some of those workers, apparently, will be headed to Barre regardless of what kinds of plans the architecture firm delivers.
The news will no doubt come as a blow to Waterbury, where many have warned that economic devastation would ensue if workers aren’t returned to town.
Shumlin said that securing economic stability for downtown Waterbury remains a priority for his administration. Employees displaced by the flood are now working in temporary locations across Chittenden and Washington counties.
“My job is to ensure that we relocate state workers, that we look out for all of our downtowns, including Waterbury, but also come out with a more efficient government prepared to meet 21st century challenges,” he said.
Shumlin said it’s too early to talk about what kind of role, if any, the state will play in funding up-front capital costs to construct the Barre facility.
Lauzon said he hopes the eventual developer of the property — three firms are in the running right now — will “present the state not only with a lease option but something where if five years down the road the state says it is in our best interest to own rather than be a tenant, they have that flexibility.”