Our Opinion: Wilmington bustling with activity


Wilmington has seen more than its share of hard times in recent years.

The downtown area was already in a state of decline from the Great Recession when Tropical Storm Irene blew through and wreaked its havoc, destroying businesses and much of the town's very infrastructure. Several shops and restaurants have closed their doors forever, either unable to recover or unwilling to try after already suffering two devastating blows to their bottom line.

In the immediate aftermath of Irene there was a lot of talk about rebuilding Wilmington, making it better than Irene found it, as Gov. Peter Shumlin likes to say. There have been countless studies, meetings and public hearings over the last three years, all centered on revitalizing the downtown village into a vibrant community for locals and a popular destination for tourists.

Progress may have seemed agonizingly slow for some, but if you take a look at downtown Wilmington today you'll see a lot of exciting things happening as the seeds sown by all those earlier meetings and studies are now bearing fruit. Dot's Restaurant -- initially thought lost forever -- has been rebuilt, and the town is a bustle of activity with other construction and renovation projects under way.

The recent news that Wilmington revitalization projects will receive a chunk of some $2.4 million in tax incentives to support downtowns and village centers is welcome relief for a town that could use a break or two. The tax credits were announced by Agency of Commerce and Community Development Tax Credits and Grants Coordinator Caitlin Corkins. A total of 37 projects will receive $2.4 million in tax incentive, with five of those projects based in Wilmington.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said these types of incentives are proven to jumpstart transformation in communities and have brought jobs, business and housing to downtowns and villages across the state. Last year, tax credits to support 31 projects were approved, including Dot's Restaurant in Wilmington.

On the list of this year's recipients is a new hotel at the former Wilmington Home Center and Professional Building properties on East Main Street. Rehabilitation plans call for a first floor retail space, hotel rooms, a coffee bar and a connector addition with an elevator. The total project cost is $1,928,400 with tax credits for $125,000.

This project is one of three in the downtown area that involve Lorista Holdings LLC and Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holdings Co LLC. Another is the former Vermont House building, which is being renovated into a new hotel at 15 West Main Street. Rehabilitation of the property, said to be used as a tavern and inn since 1864, will consists of making 13 guest rooms. The project is expected to cost $950,000 and will receive $78,235 in tax credits, as well as discounts on materials.

The third Lorista and Hermitage building is the former Poncho's Wreck Restaurant at 10 South Main Street. Vacant since 2009, it will be rehabilitated for commercial retail use and office space. The work will include extensive facade restoration work in keeping with the historic character of the building and the downtown. The project is expected to cost $407,250 and will receive $74,455 in tax credits.

Credit for all of this wonderful construction activity goes to all of those who put in so many hours sitting in meetings, getting Wilmington the downtown designation that has opened so many doors, writing grant proposals and bringing investors into the town.

As downtown organization Wilmington Works Executive Director Adam Grinold said, the approved tax credits showed the foresight of those involved in forming the downtown district.

"It really shows that long-term planning can really bring resources to the town that would not have otherwise existed," he said. "It's nice to have access to one more tool that will encourage property owners to leap into investing into their building."

"This is a reflection of the ongoing and increasing growth in town," said Town Manager Scott Murphy. "We have many downtown businesses that were purchased and are being renovated now. They're going to open shortly."

That's exciting, to say the least. And it shows just how worthwhile such grants and tax credits are in helping to revitalize communities like Wilmington. In fact, Grinold noted that the $2.4 million investment into the program is believed to support nearly $78 million worth of projects around the state.

Grinold is hopeful that with the new businesses in town, there will be more year-round jobs and more stabilization. And by having extra rooms available, there will be more 1 percent local option tax revenue to be reinvested into the community.

What's also exciting about these tax credits is that they don't benefit just businesses. Murphy said the housing aspect also helps the town. A dilapidated apartment at 9 East Main Street will be rehabilitated to provide housing for local residents. This is set to cost $24,905 with tax credits for $7,331. Another property, known as the Laterre House at 24 East Main Street, will provide affordable housing. The rehabilitation project will receive $76,796 in tax credits and is expected to cost $1,093,060.

All of these projects combined will do wonders to boost the town's economic vitality as well as its aesthetic appeal. It's especially encouraging to know there are sure to be more improvements to come, thanks to the town's newly adopted façade program.

Façade improvement grants will be funded through the town's 1 percent local option tax revenue and will provide business owners with financial assistance in improving the front of their buildings. Commercial property owners can be awarded up to 75 percent reimbursement or direct payment to vendor of the total project cost between $500 and $5,000. A 25 percent cash match will be required by applicants. Eligible expenses include labor costs, contractor fees, cost of materials and design.

Don't wait too long to apply, however, because town officials say there is a strong interest in this program so this year's money will probably go fast. But there will be another year, thanks to those with the foresight to create these revitalization programs.


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