Passport Center Could Be Huge Boost To City

By:  Emerson Lynn
St Albans Messenger

The City of St. Albans will be home to the only non-metropolitan passport agency in America. There is a single reason why: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The passport center will be located on South Main Street, where the Post Office used to be. The 6,500 square foot center is being remodeled to the tune of between $1 million and $3 million. It’s expected to employ just shy of 20 people and to be open no later than October of this year. Hopefully, much sooner.

The next closest passport agency is in Boston.

This is a big deal. As the senator said, the agency in St. Albans will not only add some employment to our rolls, it also adds a convenience to Vermonters. Instead of traveling to Boston to get the passport, people can travel here.

But that’s not what makes this so noteworthy. The importance of the passport center to St. Albans is traffic. And not the kind of traffic that makes you grip the steering wheel, but people. Lots of people.

There will be two passport centers in our region other than St. Albans, one is in Boston, the other will be in Buffalo, N.Y. That means our “circulation” reach is all of Vermont, northern New Hampshire, northern Maine, and a good share of upstate New York. Those in need of a quick passport will be able to determine whether it’s faster to come to St. Albans, or Boston or Buffalo. Many will choose St. Albans, not solely because it’s closer, but because it doesn’t require negotiating one’s way through a major city.

People who need their passports renewed are interested in efficiency. They want to arrive, find the facility easily, have a place to park, and get ‘er done.

But processing the passport takes a little time. And while they wait, they will find themselves downtown. Many will arrive the night before, so they will need a place to stay, and to eat. While they wait, they will still need to eat and to have places to loiter.

This is the sort of “traffic” essential to our downtown. Generally, those interested in a quick turnaround for their passports are well-heeled, precisely the sort to fill up our downtown restaurants, etc.

So what level traffic can we expect?

No one really knows. We would be the first passport agency ever located someplace other than a large city. There are only 20 of them nationally. But properly marketed, the potential is significant. If the center begins with a staff of 18, that’s 18 people they think they will need to handle the anticipated traffic. They will work a normal work week – Monday through Friday. If 18 people deal with 10 applicants a day – which doesn’t seem excessive – that’s 180 people a day, five days a week, all focused on downtown St. Albans.

That’s a lot of potential foot traffic for downtown St. Albans. And it could be much more than that.

That’s all upside.

Which brings us back to Mr. Leahy. He ranks third in the U.S. Senate in terms of seniority. He ranks second on the Appropriations Committee. He chairs the Judiciary Committee, and he is chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations – the subcommittee that governs the passport agencies, etc.

He was able to secure funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for five new passport centers. He said he wanted one of them to be in Vermont, and he was able to find some “surplus” federal office space in St. Albans that would suit.

Yes, power is something that can be abused. And it is. We rail about it continually. But this is an example of taxpayer dollars invested that will produce a substantial return. It’s using idle space. It’s employing 18 people [that’s just the beginning.] And it’s driving consumers to St. Albans, consumers who will spend their money locally.

That’s precisely what our economy needs. The senator’s efforts are spot on and we should be thankful he is where he is, with the power he has.