LT. GOVERNOR MOLLY GRAY HOSTS “SEAT AT THE TABLE” ON DOWNTOWN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT & TAX INCREMENT FINANCING
Montpelier, Vt. — Ahead of American Rescue Plan Act funding coming to Vermont, this afternoon, Lt. Governor Gray hosted her sixth “Seat at the Table” on the issue of downtown economic development and tax increment financing (TIF). As Vermont municipalities prepare for Rescue Plan dollars coming to the State, the event explored successes and opportunities for downtown economic development in Vermont communities through TIF.
“In the coming years, our communities and downtowns could have historic opportunities to make necessary and strategic economic investments utilizing the $197 million in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 directed at Vermont municipalities. While it is too early to say for sure, the proposed American Jobs Plan also holds promise for downtown infrastructure projects,” Lt. Governor Gray said.
“As we work to recover stronger from this pandemic, I hope today’s ‘Seat at the Table’ is the first of many conversations to come with community leaders across Vermont on the opportunities to strengthen and leverage public-private partnerships for the benefit of our downtowns and economic development,” said Lt. Governor Gray.
Speakers included Megan Sullivan, Executive Director of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, Dominic Cloud, City Manager of the City of St. Albans, Lori Hirshfield, Director of the Department of Planning and Development Services for the Town of Hartford, and Stephanie Clarke, Vice President of White + Burke Real Estate Advisors. Lt. Governor Gray moderated the event.
Panelists demystified how TIF public financing presents opportunities for stimulating downtown economic growth, and shared lessons learned from successful downtown economic development projects in St. Albans and Hartford. All panelists agreed that TIF provides strategic and important economic opportunities for Vermont’s downtowns. Furthermore, panelists expressed their support for S.33, an act that would allow for project-based tax incrementing financing districts. Currently, S. 33 is before the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development. As drafted, S.33 would allow more towns wishing to utilize TIF to do so under a project-based criteria.
Lori Hirshfield, of the Town of Hartford shared, "I’m often asked if having the TIF District really makes a difference in stimulating private investment. My answer is absolutely yes. It has enabled the Town to have the financial resources to do the improvements necessary to attract developers to Hartford. Developers see this as a demonstrated commitment to make the necessary investments in public infrastructure needed to support their development. With this commitment, Hartford has been able to build an awareness and reputation that gets developers contacting us and seriously considering investing themselves."
Stephanie Clarke, of White + Burke Real Estate Advisors, said, “Municipalities considering this powerful tool should evaluate any stalled private development in their communities and look entrepreneurially at helping to bring down barriers through infrastructure.” She continued on to say, “This pandemic recession has impacted real estate in unprecedented ways. We are asking the legislature to extend TIF Districts’ ability to borrow funds by three years to allow for investor confidence to return with the change in marketplace and rebalancing of construction costs.”
Megan Sullivan of the Vermont Economic Progress Council said, “Creating and administering a TIF District is a significant commitment by a community but has shown to be a critical instrument for inducing transformational change in those communities that have used it. We hope that the Project Based TIF proposal currently being considered by the legislature will pass in order to allow more rural communities the opportunity to access this valuable tool.”
Finally, Dominic Cloud of the City of St. Albans expressed that, “Economic Development is a public good. Like drinking water, roads, and education, it deserves significant public investment. Local and State Governments have the tools to transform local economy by participating directly in the development process. Buy the land, invest in the projects directly, and take on the elements that the private market cannot – like brownfields and parking. That is how we attract development to our designated centers and achieve the visions of our town plans and bylaws. Community vitality is evaluated by the condition of both the public and private spaces. Both are the responsibility of local leaders.”
A recording of the event is available to view on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=warxbSshrdA
Vermonters wishing to attend future sessions, can register, and find additional information here: https://ltgov.vermont.gov/seatatthetable