Friday April 5, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The state has approved Bennington’s renewal application for its designated downtown, allowing for continued benefits for the town and merchants.

The downtown 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 to fund improvement efforts in the downtown.

Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington said the town’s renewal application was approved on March 25.

Harrington said the town was first awarded the designation in 1999 and was one of the first municipalities in Vermont to obtain it. "Since that time, Bennington has used that designation to secure grants, set up a downtown improvement district, and provide assistance to local businesses," he said.

State officials with the state’s Downtown program look to make sure municipalities are properly investing in downtowns before granting the designation, according to Harrington. He said Bennington’s application noted ongoing efforts by the Better Bennington Corp., the local entity tasked with boosting the downtown. The application also mentioned resources, including staff and police and fire protection, specific to the downtown.

Additionally, the town provided an updated capital plan and downtown map, along with commitments the town has made for future downtown infrastructure improvements.

The downtown district was recently expanded to include the former Catamount Elementary School. Inclusion in the downtown district allowed the owner to receive tax credits and open an indoor soccer facility, according to Harrington.

Bennington’s downtown continues to serve as an example for towns across the state, Harrington said.

"Bennington is considered a benchmark for other designated downtown communities and is viewed by the state as one of the downtowns that exemplifies the Four Points of the National Main Street Program. This is due in no small part to the hard work of the Better Bennington Corporation, Bennington’s downtown advocacy group," he said. "I am very pleased to have our designation renewed, as this will allow us to continue to support local merchants and reinforce the positive work already occurring in our downtown core."

The town will not have to renew the designation again until 2018.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami