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Funding $3 Million Confluence River Park ‘Achievable,’ Predicted to Bring Big Return on Investment

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Kassia Randzio presents about Confluence Park. Photo by Avi Zimet.
Plans for Confluence River Park are on track, and “it’s a matter of funding now,” said Kassia Randzio, chair of the Montpelier Parks Committee and developmental director at the Vermont River Conservancy, in a presentation with AARP at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, April 5. 

The proposed Confluence River Park would sit where the Winooski and North Branch rivers meet near 1 Taylor Street, downtown, Randzio said. “This idea of having a park at the confluence of these rivers has been kicking around town for about 30 years now.” 

If the funding goal is reached, Randzio said “we can do the permitting in the fall, and my dream is to have shovels, ribbon cutting, and groundbreaking next spring or summertime. We’re about $800,000 or so short, which sounds like a lot, but that’s actually achievable and we can get there” through state and federal funding, she said.

Funding and Expenses

The park is projected to cost $3 million, which roughly breaks down into thirds for brownfields mitigation, bank stabilization, and park amenities (“the fun stuff” like benches and trees, said Randzio). The budget includes 15% to 20% contingencies, and was developed with the same engineering group that worked on 1 Taylor Street, so “they’re very familiar” with the land, Randzio said.

The city of Montpelier is paying $600,000 of the $3 million through a voter-approved bond. The City Council has since voted to hold the bond until fall of this year.

This financial commitment was kept the same year that Montpelier’s budget — and taxpayers — have been strained by flood recovery and a housing crisis. One audience member said $3 million for soil mitigation and concrete “sounds optimistic for what you’re showing.”

The park’s cost was first introduced as a $1 million project and has since tripled. Addressing public concern about the price tag, Randzio noted the city’s $600,000 commitment has stayed the same.

Randzio said she hopes the park can use “as little of that bond fund as possible, and as much of the federal funds as possible. But, we can’t raise the state and federal funds without that commitment.” The Vermont River Conservancy has secured about $1.5 million, with a proposal pending from the state.

“We got here with a lot of community engagement,” including polls, public meetings, outreach to the city of Montpelier, VTrans, the police and fire departments, Vermont Adaptive, and more, Randzio said. “We talked to businesses, we talked to seniors, we talked to youths and families, and we went on site and we had two focus groups with the homeless community, the unhoused folks that are there now,” she said.

“This park is for all people, and we’re not going to, like, put spikes on the benches and kick people out and say you don’t belong here. That’s not our community,” said Randzio.

Responding to an audience member who asked if services would be provided to the homeless community displaced by the land development, Marty Parichand, founder of the nonprofit Mill City Park, partnered with the city of Franklin, New Hampshire, responded. He said Franklin implemented social outreach before construction. “A third of the people we met with would go to city hall, and then by the end of the day they’d be placed in a shelter and have access to programs. Many others, right, they moved, it’s unfortunate to say.”

The design is “flat and walkable, and you can just walk along the river path, stop and have lunch, or coffee, meet with a friend, and keep on going,” said Randzio addressing concerns about accessibility. The design includes seating areas, a gradual path down to the river’s edge, an accessible fishing platform, and a boat launch for canoes and kayaks.

“You could have small events, you could host yoga classes, musicians, there are all sorts of different opportunities,” said Randzio, adding, “there are multiple ways to enter and exit,” and that the park is designed to be safe, accessible, and flood resilient.

Leveraging the Riverfront

“The return on investment is incredible. You’ll see it rippling through,” said Parichand. The whitewater park in Franklin, the first and only in New England, has brought visitors and cash to businesses, revitalizing Franklin’s downtown. “We have six new restaurants,” he said, and added that the Franklin park is ultimately estimated to bring in $7 million annually, through businesses and real estate development.

Randzio noted “the Burlington riverfront brings in $10,000 to $40,000 every day,” according to a 2010 study. 

“Is everyone going to be a fan? Mmm, probably not,” but “sustainability, I do believe, is what communities need to start focusing on,” said Parichand.

Limited Bathrooms and Parking

From the 1 Taylor Street lot, two parking spaces have been reserved for boat drop off, said Randzio, but most users will have to park downtown.

Bathrooms were also a concern from the audience. “That’s not in the works for the Confluence River Park, but that’s something to think about as an investment down the road,” said Randzio, adding 1 Taylor Street and City Hall both have public bathrooms.

Montpelier as a River Town

The Vermont River Conservancy is conducting a feasibility study on removing four dams to lower flooding damage, including the nearby Bailey Dam next to Shaw’s supermarket and the Rat Dam, which currently blocks boating.

Randzio said her vision is to be able to “take a bus to Barre, and put a boat in the river, and then grab brunch or something, and you can paddle into Montpelier and take your boat out right downtown.”

Randzio said she hopes in five to ten years “we would look at Montpelier and say, oh my goodness, how did we ever live here without connecting with our rivers that way?”

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