By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The Vermont Downtown Development Board last week awarded its official “downtown designation” to Bristol, which could make available more than $2 million in grants and tax credits to residents, business owners and property owners in the downtown area as well as to the town itself.
“It’s a fairly big deal,” said Joss Besse, coordinator of the Downtown Program of the Vermont Agency of Commerce. “The community has demonstrated it’s done a lot of work already (preserving) the downtown area.”
In order to obtain the downtown designation, which was created under the 1998 Downtown Development Act, a community must demonstrate a long-term commitment to revitalization through planning, capital improvements, economic development, and preservation of historic resources.
The community also must have an established downtown organization devoted to managing the revitalization effort — from setting work priorities to organizing volunteers and raising the funds necessary to support its work. In Bristol this local committee is known as the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership.
Bristol is the 20th downtown to receive recognition to date. The designation must be renewed every three years.
“Bristol has been working hard over the past few years on the revitalization of their downtown, and anyone who has visited the community lately can see how much has been accomplished,” said Kevin Dorn, Chair of the Downtown Development Board and Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. “And their plans for future improvements are impressive. The board is very pleased to recognize the energy and commitment of this community through downtown designation.”
Bristol has been seeking the downtown designation for four years, according to Bonita Bedard, who served on the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership. She said it will help the community with ongoing projects that are already important to them. “We are lucky because the downtown has been very strong in recent years, and this is going to add to that,” she said.
One new initiative the designation could help make possible is a plan by the local development committee to do something with the unused space between Brooks Pharmacy and Shaw’s Supermarket, according to Bedard. A preliminary plan was part of the application process, to show what sort of changes the local committee would make if given the opportunity. Bedard said her organization will now be working to make that happen, although planning is still in the very early stages.
The downtown designation opens up about $800,000 in grants and transportation funds to the town itself. “It raises us up in the hierarchy of the grant process,” Bedard said.
It also makes available $1.5 million in the form of tax credits to downtown businesses and property owners for work they do to improve their property.
The next step is finding a part-time coordinator for the grant-seeking process, Bedard said. The town will also have to form a committee to manage development and revitalization efforts.
“The most part of (getting the designation) is the planning part,” Bedard said.