Commentary

Melinda Moulton: Tax increment financing spurs responsible redevelopment

This commentary is by Melinda Moulton of Huntington, who is the CEO of Main Street Landing in Burlington.

I remember so vividly back in the early 1990s when then-Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle and Michael Monte, director of the city’s Community & Economic Development Office, invited Lisa Steele and me to City Hall and sat us down.

They said: “The city has created all these wonderful amenities and upgraded waterfront infrastructure and provided improvements so now it is time for you two women to get a shovel in the ground and begin to fulfill your vision.” 

Our vision included mixed-use, public access, performing arts, affordable housing and commercial space, linkages, green space, and the list goes on. As the largest private property owner on the downtown waterfront, Main Street Landing was encouraged by the city’s shared vision and passion to invest in the then-blighted and neglected waterfront. 

It is now a place with recreation, food, water sports, relaxation, access, and fun activities, including the ECHO Leahy Center. So many of you come to the waterfront often to enjoy these amenities or just to watch the sun go down and witness one of the most spectacular sunsets in the world. 

The waterfront is a Vermont treasure and soon we will have Amtrak pulling into the Main Street Landing Station at the foot of Main Street.

Public/private partnerships have created powerful alliances that have served the city’s citizens by creating the public "people" amenities that support the built environment. 

So, what is tax increment financing — TIF for short? Tax increment financing is a public financing tool that spurs private redevelopment, investment in infrastructure, and is often used to encourage private investment to help rebuild and revitalize areas in a city that are underutilized and distressed. 

Money involved in a TIF does not come from the municipal budget. A city postpones tax revenue that is then reclaimed from the projects that are created, which will then generate gains for many years to come, which support the city’s coffers. 

If we believe in growing Burlington to support growth in a sustainable way, and if we understand the importance of infrastructure investments that create resiliency and well-thought-out planning that supports the entire community, then using TIF to accomplish this makes all the sense in the world. 

Main Street Landing began revitalizing the waterfront with the redevelopment of Union Station and construction of the CornerStone and the Wing Buildings. all located at One Main Street. This mixed-use transportation hub, with commercial and residential uses and a cultural center. anchors the intersection of Main and Battery streets. 

What inspired us to get on with our work of redeveloping this parcel at the foot of Main Street? Quite frankly, it was the important work that the city of Burlington did by investing public dollars to create the Waterfront Park, the Boathouse, the Bike Path, and helping with stormwater upgrades, curbs, sidewalks, and plantings, to name just a few. 

The city showed commitment to upgrading what was a blighted, underutilized waterfront with investment dollars, which in turn paved the way for Main Street Landing to move forward with our plans to create our sustainable projects that so many people enjoy today. 

If a city wants to encourage redevelopment, this is what it does. Main Street Landing would have been hard pressed to create a successful project if it had not been for the city’s investments to provide for the public amenities. Without this public financial infusion by the city, investing in infrastructure and projects that served the citizens, our project would have failed. 

The tax increment financing district resulted in significant amounts of redevelopment that has benefited all of us, including: 

  • Lake Street reconstruction to enable private, public and nonprofit developments.
  • Urban reserve acquisition for public ownership of over 40 acres. 
  • Waterfront fishing pier to protect fishing access for those without boats. 
  • Lake Street Extension to create 40 homes for low- and moderate-income families. 
  • Lakeview, Westlake and College Street garages to attract and retain businesses.

For many decades, Burlington’s citizens have shown consistent support for what we call public-private partnerships and many of the greatest cities in the world have benefited from this important and valuable relationship. 

Certainly, Main Street Landing would not have been able to do what we have done these past 40 years without the city’s support. Understanding Tax increment financing hopefully will alleviate concerns in the future whenever the city chooses to utilize this financing tool to benefit the public and spur redevelopment that is incremental and public-driven. 


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