Friday March 1, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Town officials are looking to renew Bennington’s official downtown designation for another five years.

Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington updated the Select Board Monday on the town’s effort to secure the designation for another five years. The town last renewed the designation in 2008. Bennington was among the first towns to receive the designation.

The designation, granted by the state, allows for property owners to take part in tax incentive programs for development, allows the town to receive grant money to benefit the downtown and allows the town to assess a tax from businesses within the district that goes to support the downtown.

Harrington said officials with the state’s Downtown program look to make sure municipalities are properly investing in downtowns before granting the designation. He said Bennington’s application notes the ongoing efforts of the Better Bennington Corp., the local entity tasked with boosting the downtown.

The application also notes resources, including staff and police and fire protection, specific to the downtown.

"They look Š to make sure that the community and the municipality is putting resources toward the downtown to make it successful," Harrington said.

There are few changes to the town’s application. Harrington said the downtown district was recently expanded slightly to include the former Catamount Elementary School.


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Inclusion in the downtown district allowed the owner to receive tax credits and open an indoor soccer facility.

Harrington said the application requires updated maps of the downtown district that delineate any changes.

The draft application notes the difficulties municipalities across the country are facing because of "declining visitors, the prevalence of online shopping, and the extensive use of mobile devices." Small businesses that typically exist in downtowns "are having to find new and innovative ways to market their companies using very little resources."

Still, Bennington’s downtown remains attractive to the right people, according to the application.

"While the emphasis at a national level has been on urban development and large corporation growth, the importance of small-town relationships, quality of life and the believe in a work to life balance continues to fuel the belief that Bennington is a perfect location for the right type of business," the application states.

The renewal process requires a public hearing and Select Board approval. The final application will be submitted to state officials in March.

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @nealgoswami