Officials look to renew downtown title

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BENNINGTON — Officials are looking to renew the town's downtown designation another five years.

The town last renewed its official designation with the Vermont Downtown Program in 2013. The renewal committee will be convening in Bennington in March.

"There's a lot of exciting change and energy we'd like to share with them," Zirwat Chowdhury, community development director, told Select Board members on Monday.

The designation allows the town to assess a tax from businesses within the district that goes to support the downtown. It also opens up opportunities for the town to receive grant money, said John Shannahan, executive director for the Bennington Downtown Alliance (BDA).

"It lessens some regulation and permit fees for signage even outside of the designation district for housing in proximity right outside of the downtown," Shannahan said.

The BDA, formerly known as the Better Bennington Corporation, is the non-profit entity that receives money from the tax collected by the town.

Select Board members on Monday voted unanimously to sign a resolution authorizing the town and BDA to seek renewal.

Bennington was one of the first towns to earn a designation, receiving it in 1999. Now, it's one of 28 towns that have a designation.

The town and BDA submitted their joint application to the state's program last week for a preliminary review, according to Chowdhury.

The renewal process requires a public hearing.

The multi-million dollar Putnam Redevelopment Project, proposed in the heart of downtown, is one thing the draft application identifies as a success. A public-private partnership supports the Bennington Redevelopment Group's plans to purchase and develop the historic Putnam Block properties. The group completed its acquisition and possession of the building this fall. Another is the state's approval of the town's tax increment financing district (TIF). That district closely follows the designated downtown district boundary.

Other successes in the downtown identified in the draft application include success of events downtown, work on the Ninja Path, and the installation of five new electric vehicle charging stations.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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