Newport Economic Summit Promises Big Changes

NEWPORT CITY — About a 100 or so community leaders met at the Gateway Center Wednesday evening to hear what was accomplished in the city and what the future holds. Newport City Mayor Paul Monette said it is amazing how far the city has come since the first visit by the Regional Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) in 2007. One of the most important things that happened is the development of a partnership between the public and private sector.“R/UDAT opened up our eyes to see what we have, what we can do and the potential that is out there,” he said. “We had many ideas presented to us. Unfortunately, economic times have slowed down some of the ideas, but they are not dead.”Some of things that Newport has done over the past few years include implementing a form-based code zoning and a tax stabilization policy to help attract new businesses.Part of attracting new businesses to the region includes adding 1,000 feet to the runway airport at the Newport State Airport in Coventry. Robert Chase, from Economic & Policy Resources in Williston, said, “Transportation and economic development are really important." The company studied the economic effects of extending the runaway and did an economic appraisal on potential development. Local community and business leaders want to improve the airport to increase the airport's economic role in the community. Chase’s firm placed various improvement projects into three phases. The first phase includes improvement options in one to six years, such as navigational aids, ground support and transportation. The second phase, over the next seven to ten years, includes extending the runway 1,000 feet, runway grooving, a new terminal building, additional parking, an airport-based business park and infrastructure improvements. The third phase, 10 years and beyond, includes essential air service, air cargo service and onsite customs clearance.Improvements at the airport could bring numerous jobs and millions of additional dollars to the region.However, the airport would need financial assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration.“Based on the current volume of use at the airport facility, it probably does not make economic sense for the FAA to support such an improvement as a runway extension,” according to an informational booklet handed out on Wednesday.Trish Sears, executive director of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation, said work is progressing on the storm water issue at the airport.Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, said the airport is not the answer to anything but it is an important part of the area’s transportation benefits. He said the resort is looking at the viability or having helicopter service from the airport to Jay Peak.Stenger, who is working on bringing a biotech center to the former Bognor property on the Lake Road, said the property closing would take place on Sept. 15. A group of scientists from South Korea, the home of the company opening the plant, will visit the United States within the next couple of weeks. They will visit Washington D.C., and a number of universities and Newport. Numerous officials in the scientific community have reached out to project officials about being allies or renting space at the Lake Road facility, Stenger said.Stenger is also working with Burlington businessman and Newport native Tony Pomerleau on constructing a large hotel and conference center on Newport’s lakeshore. Stenger said the project is starting to get into the important decisions mood. “There are no physical constraints that we feel are going to prevent that hotel from being buildable,” said Stenger. “We both feel that it’s imminently doable and we’re committed to that.”Due to family issues, Pomerleau was unable to attend Wednesday’s gathering.Sears told a group from the state will hold a planning conference in October. “They’re going to spend the whole day here,” she said. “They’re going to walk around and see what we’ve done and they’re going to steal the good ideas and we’re okay with that.”Sears also said a second biotech firm is planning on relocating in Newport by the end of the year and many other firms are looking at coming to the area as well.“We’re going to have to practice dealing with success,” said Sears. “I think we’re going to be okay, but it’s going to take some practice.”