Bennington crafts economic rehab programs

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BENNINGTON >> The town is working on financial incentive programs to help property owners revitalize their buildings.

The programs are separate from a vacant property ordinance the Select Board is also mulling over, but the two efforts work together to achieve the same end, said Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington.

Harrington first presented a draft of the three programs to the Select Board on April 25. He was before the board again on Monday with a draft that incorporated the changes the board recommended. The board recommended a few more changes and Harrington is expected to present again at the next meeting and seek the board's final approval.

In an interview Tuesday, Harrington said these programs make use of existing funds and that the application processes are already in place. These programs are essentially new doorways into existing resources.

There are three programs being put forward. One is the "Matching Grant/Forgivable Loan Program" which draws money from the Bennington Economic Development Fund. According to the most recent draft presented, the matching grant program is aimed at property owners in the downtown who wish to make capital improvements. They must provide matching funds and, if their project meets the stipulated requirements, they won't have to pay back the portion the town kicked in.

The "Low Interest Business Facilitation Loan Program" is designed to "...remove roadblocks that are preventing the timely opening or expansion of businesses in the downtown district," according to the draft.

The board asked Harrington to specify what the interest rate on these loans would be. In the draft they are described as "ultra-low." Money for this loan program comes from the town's revolving loan fund.

Also fed by the revolving loan fund is the "Upper Floor Residential Loan Program." Harrington said the goal of this program is to rehabilitate rental housing space in the upper floors of downtown buildings. Were these places occupied, that would mean more foot traffic and vibrancy in the downtown.

Right now, many such spaces are vacant because of the cost in bringing them up to fire and other safety codes.

Once these programs are completed and approved the board, the town will go about marketing them. Harrington told the board that information would be available on the town's website, but also he would approach various organizations such as the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce and the Better Bennington Corporation to spread the word. Announcements would also be made through local media.

Harrington said he would expect a high number of applicants to begin with, perhaps five per financial quarter. He said there are people who have already expressed interest in utilizing these programs.

<URL destination="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biN9eiysIL0">The meeting where Harrington spoke was filmed by Catamount Access Television.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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