BENNINGTON — The Select Board on Monday approved expansion of the downtown area that could benefit from federal historic preservation tax credits and state grants for designated Vermont downtowns.
The area was extended to the east along both sides of Main Street from the Valentine Street intersection to the intersection with Pleasant Street.
The key feature and principal reason for the proposal is the former Bennington High School building, which is being renovated and repurposed by a developer who purchased the prominent structure at 650 Main St. in March 2020.
Community Development Director Shannon Barsotti and Planning Commission Chairman Michael McDonough said the extension will allow property owners to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits – like those used in developing the first phase of the Putnam Block project to renovate three historic buildings at the Four Corners. Applications for those credits are due in July.
The change, or map amendment, will also put the area in a position to seek state grants for formally designated downtown areas.
Barsotti said the change was comparatively straightforward as it does not include the area in the town’s downtown improvement taxing district, which would require voter approval.
She said the potential cost to the town would only be in her time in helping property owners apply for the tax credits or downtown improvement grants, adding that owners have to take the initiative.
“They have to want to apply,” she said.
McDonough said after the meeting that the town must now apply for the expansion to the Vermont Downtown Development Board, within the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
That board reviews and approves all applications for state designation and modifications to those districts. It also tracks the Designated Downtowns to insure compliance with the conditions of designation.
The board will review the town's expansion application at its June meeting.
Asked why the town wouldn’t further expand the eligible area, the officials said it is unclear whether parts of the larger downtown design review district would qualify for or benefit from credits or downtown grants. They added that the process of extending the area is not difficult and could be done again.
“The timing is good to take this step,” said Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins, referring to the ongoing Benn Hi building renovation by owner, Christopher Gilbert, of Red Hook, N.Y., and Dorset.
Gilbert purchased the vacant former school through his Benn High, LLC, and has secured it and begun renovations. The imposing brick structure, with additions constructed over the years, encompasses some 120,000 square feet of floor space.
The school is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is described as an example of Beaux-Arts architecture, featuring a two-story portico with fluted Corinthian columns.
Opened in 1913, it replaced the first Bennington High School, which opened in 1875 but had become too crowded for the growing town population.
After Mount Anthony Union High School opened in 1967-68, the old high school became a middle school. That closed when it was replaced by the new Mount Anthony Union Middle School in 2006.
Gilbert’s principal business is designing and constructing homes in the Hudson Valley, N.Y. region, But he also has taken on projects involving other large, older structures that were vacant, including a former chocolate factory in Red Hook.