Thursday July 25, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The village will benefit from $135,228 in downtown tax credits allocated from the state level to assist in building improvements and help revitalize Vermont's downtowns and community centers.

Gov. Peter Shumlin this week announced the allocation of nearly $2 million in income tax credits to support about $18 million worth of projects around the state. A total of $135,228 will be directed to Bellows Falls to partially cover the $1,948,000 cost of work to be done at Hotel Windham, Edward Arms Block and 30 Island St.

This year's tax credits, awarded by the state's Downtown Development Board, go to 31 projects in 20 communities.

Hotel Windham, owned by the Windham Development Group, LLC, is in need of some code improvements and $25,000 in tax credits will offset part of the $1,200,000 price tag associated with getting the building in compliance with all codes. Tony Elliott, one of the partners with Windham Development Group, explained that tax credits work by allowing people to file less in income taxes. However, recipients of the credits can also sell them to a local bank, which would pay less than face value because of a service cost, and Elliott said that is what the group will do.

He told the Reformer the biggest code improvement will be the repair of the elevator, which he said has been out of order for about 20 years. Hotel Windham, which has not served as a lodging facility in the same stretch of time, houses The Rock and Hammer jewelry store, Village Square Booksellers, the Windham Ballroom and Popolo restaurant and its outdoor deck. Elliott said the development group would like to rent out residences on the building's second and third floors, but a lot of aspects must first be brought up to code.

He said this work will be a continuation of a long-term plan. The first step of the plan was to fill the first floor -- which was accomplished when Popolo opened up in May 2012 -- and put in a new sprinkler system, heating system and do some extensive rewiring. This was completed with the help of previously acquired tax credits, Elliott said.

He said the work on the elevator will likely start within the next couple of years.

Pat Fowler, owner of Village Square Booksellers and a partner with the Windham Development Group, said it will be nice to keep more money in the community.

Edward Arms Block (29-35 Westminster St.) is owned by Michael Bruno, who also owns the Windham Antique Center in The Square. Bruno said he took ownership of the property in March, after walking by it on his way to work every day for a few years. The building, built in 1890, is around the corner from his other business and consists of five apartments, 10 commercial spaces and three storefronts. He said there are three tenants right now and he is looking for more. A planning and architectural firm will move into the office space, he said.

The $92,500 in tax credits will be used to afford code improvements, including a sprinkler system. It is expected to cost $300,000 to get the building up to code.

"I'm thrilled (about the tax credits)," Bruno said. "I want to make (the building) a viable part of the community again."

The building at 30 Island St. is part of the Green Island Project -- a renovation venture launched by Sustainable Valley Group and designed to bring green businesses into the village -- and will receive $17,728 in tax credits.

The 6,000-square-foot building is on a 0.30-acre island parcel between the Connecticut River and the Bellows Falls Canal. It is across from the train station and expected to be fully leased once the renovations are completed. RReal Warm, a solar furnace manufacturer, along with Southeastern Vermont Community Action's textile recycling business are the first tenants.

SVG Executive Director Gary Fox said the tax credits will pay half the cost of a new sprinkler system and half the cost of some Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades, such as a wheelchair ramp.

The entire project at 30 Island St. is expected to cost $448,000.

Mary Helen Hawthorne, the executive director of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, said the tax credits are terrific and will be vital to code compliance and façade improvement.

"They allow for that little bit of extra money it might take to get a project off the ground. It does make a big difference," she said, adding that it is advantageous for a business owner to apply for tax credits if he or she is ready to make some improvements.

She said the tax credits could better the downtown economy, as they will result in the buildings becoming more aesthetically pleasing and will increase retail space.

Other project highlights include access and safety improvements at the Old Labor Hall (Barre's National Historic Landmark), conversion of the former Masonic Building in Springfield into space for four commercial enterprises, rehabilitation of the vacant Bank Block in Richford's center and rehabilitation of the former Post Office in White River Junction for The Center for Cartoon Studies and the Schulz Library.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.