Putnam project group resets launch timetable

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BENNINGTON — Principals in the $53 million Putnam Block redevelopment effort have announced a timeline reset, expressing confidence that the financing package for phase one will be completed by spring and a groundbreaking held by June.

A planned fall 2017 construction start for the $25 million first project phase was postponed amid mounting concerns about effects of the federal tax code overhaul and fears of a government shutdown.

"A financial closing is expected in spring 2018, with construction commencing in May/June 2018," the development group said Thursday in a release. "Construction on the first phase of the project is expected to be completed in September 2019."

Expressions of concern and outright skepticism from some had greeted the postponement last fall. That included comments from those advocating a switch to a mayoral system of government, which is a proposal up for a binding vote in the March 6 town election. They contend that the current town manager/select board government is ineffective, especially when it comes to promoting economic development.

But Bill Colvin, local point-person for the developers, the Bennington Redevelopment Group, said Thursday the project's complex financing package remains on track. It involves federal Historic Preservation and New Markets tax credits and low-interest loan program assistance — all of which are susceptible to the levels of funding approved for the programs in Washington.

The tax credit programs had been eyed for cuts in some early versions floated in Congress, before the final federal tax code plan was approved and signed by President Trump in late December; it extended the tax credit programs through at least the first phase of the Putnam project.

Colvin said Thursday the next round of allocations for the Community Development Entities that applied under the New Market credits program is expected to be announced by the end of March. The Putnam developers can then conclude agreements with those CDEs expressing an interest is supporting the Putnam Block revitalization, which number at least three, he said.

"We are confident that once there is an allocation [to CDEs], we will quickly know the path forward," Colvin said of the Putnam financing plan. "And we have a number of options."

The Putnam Block proposal — encompassing six buildings on four acres near the Four Corners (Routes 7 and 9) intersection in Bennington — is being developed by a consortium of local institutions and businesses, including Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College and Southern Vermont College, the Bank of Bennington, and other business leaders and private investors.

"We are confident that the last remaining financing pieces can be put in place for us to break ground by early summer," James Brown, president and CEO of the Bank of Bennington, said of the project's current outlook. "All the investors remain firmly behind this project and seeing it to completion."

Colvin said Thursday that there are additional reasons for the group to be optimistic, and those will be detailed in announcements planned over the next several weeks involving investment details.

"That is part of the reason we are confident," he said.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.






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