Houlton looks to upgrade downtown

Posted March 27, 2009, at 9:38 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Town officials are hoping that a new designation for the historic downtown will spark additional investment in one of the most treasured parts of the community.

During a meeting earlier this week, town councilors approved a measure to establish downtown Market Square as a tax increment financing district.

Tagged as an economic development device, the tax increment financing program, or TIF, aims to enhance and entice investment in a specific portion of a town.

Councilors first adopted a TIF policy for the town in 2005 and later stamped several portions of the town as TIF development districts. Around the same time, town officials began drafting a proposal to designate the downtown as a TIF district.

In the past few years, the complexion of the downtown has changed considerably. Several new businesses, including restaurants, pet salons and craft stores, have started — and stayed — in the downtown. Most of those businesses are housed in older historic and privately owned buildings.

Upgrading such structures is costly and the bill is something that taxpayers could never foot, Town Manager Doug Hazlett said Friday.

Designating Market Square as a TIF district will allow the town to give tax credits to building owners who want to upgrade their property.

“One of the key features of this is that it is designed to bring private investment into the downtown,” Hazlett explained. “This gives owners an incentive to invest in refurbishing their buildings.”

Hazlett explained that as incentive, building owners will receive a tax refund over a 10- or 15-year period if they invest in their downtown building. If an owner invests $750,000, for example, they will receive an 85 percent tax refund over 15 years.

“We want people to invest in the downtown,” Hazlett said Friday. “We want them to refurbish their buildings. If we do not invest in the buildings in the downtown in the present, they won’t be there in the long term.”

jlbdn@ainop.com

538-6567

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