HOULTON – Right now, downtown Market Square has taken on the magical look of the holiday season.
An official tree-lighting ceremony to usher in the holiday season was held over the weekend, and the majestic tree in the center of the downtown is festooned with a sparkling star and cascading strands of multicolored lights.
And with fewer vacant buildings in Market Square now than in past years, an increasing number of downtown merchants are enjoying the holiday scene.
Town officials are optimistic that the future of the historic downtown will get even brighter once it successfully has Market Square designated as a tax increment financing district.
Town Manager Douglas Hazlett said recently that officials hope to have the TIF designation in place by early next year.
“We are in the final stages of what we need to do before we can bring this to the council,” said Hazlett. “I hope to have it before the council in January.”
Once given the nod by the council, the application will be submitted to the state for approval.
Pegged as an economic development device, TIF aims to enhance and entice investment in a specific portion of a town.
Councilors adopted a TIF policy for the town in 2005 and have a portion of the Tate & Lyle manufacturing plant and a section of North Street as TIF development districts.
Designating Market Square as a TIF district will help accomplish a number of things, including allowing the town to give tax credits to building owners who want to upgrade their property and also entitling the municipality to capture the value that goes into development on North Street and return it to the downtown.
While designation of a TIF district does not in itself grant tax relief on future development, it does indicate a location in the municipality that might be eligible for one. It also allows TIF proceeds to be used for development projects.
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.
Landscaping improvements also have been made, and more events have been held to draw people into Market Square.
Hazlett said that while the town has to keep encouraging new businesses to move in, it also has to provide incentives for existing businesses.
“We have to continue to pay attention to our existing businesses,” he said. “There are a number of those businesses in the downtown that are located in old buildings. We’ve heard from business owners who have said they would like to fix up their facades and spruce up their buildings to make them look better and to help draw in more customers, but that sort of thing is quite expensive, especially with the cost of construction material today and dealing with an older building.”
He added that if the downtown becomes a TIF district, that opens the door for the municipality to give tax credits to those building owners who want to spruce up their property.
Hazlett added that changes under way in the downtown are having a positive impact both on the area and the overall economy.
“There are only a handful of vacant buildings down there now, which is great to see,” he said. “We are seeing positive changes, and, hopefully, the designation of the downtown as a TIF district will only add to that.”