State board OK's TIF district for Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Bennington has won approval for a downtown tax increment financing district following a unanimous vote of the Vermont Economic Progress Council.

Council Executive Director Fred Kenney said the state panel voted Friday on the town's application after receiving a positive review from his staff.

Action on the town's tax increment financing, or TIF, application wasn't expected before the council's December meeting, but Kenney said the few remaining technical questions were addressed in time for him to recommend approval.

"The Bennington TIF district plan includes exactly the downtown revitalization envisioned by the TIF program," council Chairman Stephan Morse said in a release. "This was an excellent plan and a well-prepared application that the VEPC board was pleased to consider and approve."

With a TIF district in place, the town is authorized to borrow for infrastructure improvements to enhance private development projects. The bonds are to be repaid with a percentage of the new tax revenue generated by the property upgrades, with each bond requiring the approval of town voters.

The catalyst for consideration of a TIF district was the planned $53 million Putnam Block redevelopment plan, which is focused on four acres and six buildings — most historic structures — around the former Hotel Putnam. That two-phase, multi-year project is planned by a consortium of local institutions, businesses and private investors

There also are other structures within the district boundaries that have been considered for renovation or reuse projects. In its application, the town listed a total of $6.4 million in possible infrastructure work to support private development and more than a dozen other possible private project sites, such as the vacant former Bennington High School on Main Street.

The Bennington TIF district totals about 70 acres and includes 155 parcels in the downtown.

"We are delighted with the state's approval of Bennington's TIF district plan," said Select Board Chairman Thomas Jacobs. "TIF is one of the many opportunities the Bennington Select Board has targeted to support ongoing efforts to improve Bennington's economy and strengthen our community."

The board "has made economic development its highest priority," said Town Manager Stuart Hurd. "Not only will TIF enable the construction of essential public infrastructure projects, but the development it facilitates will result in job growth and an increase in the Bennington grand list."

Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks said the types of infrastructure work being considered include brownfields remediation, parking facility and water system upgrades; public park improvements, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and streetscape work.

For a 20-year period, 100 percent of the municipal property taxes and 70 percent of the state education taxes generated by new private development will be available to finance TIF district infrastructure improvements.

"TIF is a powerful development tool that creates a revenue stream to finance necessary infrastructure development without burdening the local taxpayers," Monks said.

He and other town staff members worked with consultants from Burke & White Real Estate Investment Advisors, a firm that also has assisted several other Vermont communities through the complex TIF application process.

Bennington was the furthest along with its proposal among a half-dozen Vermont communities that lobbied the Legislature to lift a cap on new TIF districts that had been imposed by the state in 2013. It is now the first new town to receive approval from the statewide council, which oversees the TIF program and reviews required annual progress reports from each district.

Kenney said the town now has authorization to consider infrastructure work within the district, but the council also will send detailed information on reporting requirements and on how to bring forth projects for consideration by the voters.

The Select Board is expected to consider the scope of the first infrastructure bond proposal over the next few months, aiming for a vote during the annual town meeting.

The board approved the TIF application in September, and the council held a hearing here in October to receive comment from local officials, residents and others on the proposal.

Information on the council's website can be found at accd.vermont.gov/community-development/funding-incentives/tif/bennington

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.




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