City Center Wins TIF District Approval

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Thursday August 08, 2013

Although South Burlington has nearly 18,000 residents and a daytime population of 28,000, it is one of the few cities in Vermont without a downtown, but according to a recent press release from the City, on Thursday, July 25, 2013, the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC) unanimously approved the City’s plan to use tax increment financing (TIF) to build City Center as a public-private partnership.  “We really appreciate the efforts of Governor Shumlin, our Chittenden County legislators and the VEPC Board for ensuring that South Burlington has the opportunity to make City Center a reality,” City Council Chair Pam Mackenzie said. Last August, the City applied to use a portion of State Education taxes on new development in the TIF District to build environmental, transportation and place making projects in order to establish City Center as the downtown area for the community.  

In meetings over the last year, the board deliberated on whether TIF District funding could be used for each public project proposed in the TIF District.  All proposals received at least some eligibility including Market Street, a new street connecting Healthy Living to Midas Drive, a downtown park, stormwater treatment, wetland mitigation, a streetscape on Williston Road, city hall, a recreation center, a library, a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-89, and Dumont Park including associated pathways.

Of the projects, Project Director Ilona Blanchard said, “The projects included in the adopted TIF District Plan all met a combination of criteria:  within a City plan or on the City’s Official Map or contained in a study the City generated or participated in actively; would improve future transportation, ability to develop or placemaking in City Center (all contribute to economic vitality & livability); committed to in the City Center Environmental Assessment and therefore required for development of City Center; favorably received by either property owners or the community; and generally feasible and logical as a first step (most bang for the buck).”

Although this was the first application in which public buildings were able to stand up to the Board’s test of contributing to the economic vitality of the TIF District, South Burlington will still need to have a financing plan approved by VEPC and undertake considerable design and engineering as well as gain voter approval before any project may be built. 

Ms. Blanchard explained, “the Financial Plan doesn’t have a specific due date, however we would need to file it and have it reviewed and approved prior to any City-wide votes on incurring debt (another precursor to using this financing tool).  Our last date for using this financing tool; i.e. incurring debt, is March 2017, so we would probably want our first vote the year prior (March 2016), meaning we would want to have the Financing Plan reviewed and approved in 2015.  This is only a projection based on what we know now, as we get deeper into the numbers and projects this may change.”

Blanchard said, “Prior to any vote, the City (that includes the community) needs to understand what is being considered.  Some projects that received eligibility, like Market Street, are already in this year’s budget.  At the direction of Council, staff is putting together a holistic plan that will be presented in November.  It will include not only the tasks going forward to flesh out these projects in terms of design, location, and cost, but also all the non-tangibles that need to be in place in order to build a new downtown as a public-private partnership.  Until we have a financial plan, we will not know how the projects will be grouped.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent