State grants continue to fuel St. Albans rebirth

Shumlin announces $2.25 million for Vermont downtowns

By Elaine Ezerins

Staff Writer

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ST. ALBANS CITY — The state continues to invest in the revitalization of St. Albans’ downtown, awarding public dollars to the community to leverage private investment.

This afternoon, Governor Peter Shumlin is scheduled to announce the winners of $2.25 million in downtown and village center tax incentives at the site of the future Hampton Inn on Lake Street.

Three projects in the city’s downtown, including renovations to 6 – 10 North Main St., 12 – 16 North Main St. and major improvements to Lake Street, will receive $460,000 of those funds in tax credits and sales tax reallocation.

Renovating both the interior and exterior of 6 – 10 North Main Street, the historic Franklin County Savings Bank and Trust building, is estimated to cost $1.24 million.

The plan is to install historically appropriate windows, convert the empty upper floors into housing units, update the sprinkler system and make the building more accessible with a new elevator. The project received $154,900 in tax credits.

The historic Prior Block, 12 – 16 North Main Street, was constructed in 1925. The owners plan to invest $1.3 million into rehabilitating the building into commercial space on the ground floor and nine housing units on the upper floors. The project was awarded $202,500 in tax credits to help with expenses.

Grant Butterfield, a co-owner of both properties, said both buildings are going to be “extensively renovated,” remodeling and upgrading the whole interior to comply with today’s safety standards. Butterfield said he intends to brand the housing units on the upper floors as “luxury apartments,” which St. Albans currently does not have.

He said the interior renovations will occur over the course of the winter, with exterior changes made next spring. He anticipates construction to be complete by early summer.

Tax credits essentially redirect income taxes to help pay for the construction bills. State tax credits are available for eligible commercial buildings and nonprofit-owned buildings constructed before 1983, located within designated downtown or village centers.

The credits can be used toward general rehabilitation, code compliance, and exterior improvements. Projects are eligible to receive between 10 and 50 percent of total rehabilitation costs in state tax credits.

“We certainly could not have done it without the tax credits,” Butterfield said. “It wouldn’t financially make sense… It’s even a fine line with the tax credits.”

The tax credits come with stipulations however, including keeping an interior stairway dating back to the early 1900s inside one of the buildings, despite the plans to install an elevator, according to Butterfield.

The third project, the city’s major streetscape and pedestrian improvements to Lake Street, will receive $103,400 in reallocated sales taxes. Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning & development, said the owners of the future 84-room Hampton Inn estimated the total sales tax on construction materials for converting the vacant downtown brownfield site into a livable, usable space.

Sawyer said the state receives the first $100,000 in sales tax, but the rest, around $103,000, is reallocated toward the Lake Street renovation project. “It makes a difference,” he said.

When the state considers reallocating sales tax, Sawyer said it is looking for public projects that directly relate to private projects. In their July 1 application, the city had to explain why the Lake Street renovation was important to the downtown and the construction of the hotel, he said.

Sawyer said the city needs the downtown streetscape to continue down Lake Street, making visitors to St. Albans want to drive around the corner and park in front of the future hotel. The funds will go toward making surface improvements, such as adding flowers, lights, banners and more.

Sawyer said the downtown and village center tax credits and sales tax reallocations program is great and very beneficial to downtowns. It’s a quick turnaround with applications due on July 1 and award letters received on Aug. 2.

Lucy Leriche from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache will join Shumlin for the 1:30 p.m. announcement.