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'Better Block' Event Aims To Revitalize Bethel's Downtown

Bethel will be testing various downtown improvement projects this weekend, with the hope that a do-it-yourself makeover will lead to longer term revitalization of its city center. 

Five years after Tropical Storm Irene, Bethel has mostly recovered from the devastation that the storm brought. But like many small towns in Vermont, it continues to struggle with long-term problems: aging historic buildings, empty storefronts and little municipal capacity for planning and development work.

Bethel hopes to change that with its Bethel Better Block event, which starts at 3 p.m. on Friday and continues until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Rebecca Sanborn Stone, an organizer of the Bethel Revitalization Initiative, spoke with Vermont Edition on Tuesday about the upcoming event.

"The 'Better Block' really means what it says: taking one block downtown – for us that's our one intact historic block on Main Street – and making it better in just about every way we can imagine," she says.

Sanborn Stone explains that Better Block got its start in Dallas, and the concept has spread nationally, but this is the first time the project will take place in Vermont. She says Team Better Block has provided help with the project, and AARP Vermont has provided funding and sponsorship.

On Vermont Edition, Sanborn Stone described some activities and vendors that will be part of the event in Bethel, why this approach is a good fit for the town, the planning process and more. She also discussed the plan to look beyond this one weekend.

"The main point about this project is it's not a community festival, it's not just a celebration that will happen once," Sanborn Stone says. "We're really trying on things that could become permanent."

Listen to the full interview above.

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