The state has awarded $1.8 million in tax credits to help downtown revitalization projects.
The Shumlin administration says the credits will support nearly $26 million dollars of building improvements in 17 communities around Vermont
The downtown program has been in place for years. But the legislature this year targeted some of the money to help businesses hurt by Tropical Storm Irene.
A prime example of the tax credits at work is the four-story Blanchard Building in Barre.
The building sits in a prime location overlooking a city park. But a furniture story that occupied the lower floors had its last sale a few years ago. The windows were boarded up. And the brick edifice built in 1904 became a visual symbol of the problems afflicting Barre and other downtowns.
Mark Nicholson is an owner of the company now rehabilitating the building.
"That plywood in the window, when you came here and stopped at the light, you were looking at this decrepit building that Barre needed to have changed," he says.
Nicholson’s company, Granite City Developers, is now deep into a $3 million renovation that will create new commercial space on the ground floors and office space in the floors above. The developers will also install an elevator, sprinklers, wiring and a new heating and ventilation system.
Except for some cosmetic blemishes, the building is in great shape. A foot thick brick wall running up the center provides structural support. On a quick tour, Nicholson points out other features of the solid, turn-of-the-last century construction
"We have the tin ceiling that was original from 1904 that we’ll clean and probably go for a little lighter color for light reflectivity," he says. "And then the plaster – a few holes in them – but basically intact from then. And then the oversized windows, which will just be incredible to let light in and for a spacious feeling."
The Blanchard Block project is one of 30 in 17 communities to benefit from this year’s tax credits awards. Nicholson says the $287,000 credit was key to getting bank financing.
"You’ve got to keep the costs to fit what the rents are in the area. In our case, I don’t see how without the credit the project would have gone," he says. "It’s fairly tight anyway, and that makes the difference."
Gov. Peter Shumlin paid tribute to developers like Nicholson at a ceremony at the Blanchard Building. As each business person told a brief story about their projects, Shumlin led the crowd in rounds of applause.
"This is what’s insuring that we grow jobs, and economic opportunities in our downtowns across Vermont and there is no other state that is doing it like you are in the state of Vermont," he says.
Shumlin pointed out that this year, half a million dollars in tax credits will go to rebuild buildings and businesses damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and earlier floods of 2011.
Among them is Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington, a famous eatery that was almost swept away by the Deerfield River. Co-owner Patty Reagan says this summer a crane lifted up the 1832 building and a new foundation was poured that should withstand any future floods. Reagan says the tax credits, plus local fund-raising, will help the restaurant re-open this winter.
"It’s not necessarily about us," she says. "It’s about making this institution which has been part of Wilmington for generations live on for more generations to come," she says.
Other business helped by the tax credits include the Brooks House in Brattleboro, a local landmark that was damaged by both a fire in 2011 and the floods of Irene.