The tax credit program is one of the benefits of the Vermont Downtown Designation program. Wilmington applied for the program as part of its broader effort to support recovery efforts after Tropical Storm Irene. The designation also made possible the creation of Wilmington Works, a public/private partnership with the town and the Wilmington Fund VT, which will administer the program locally.
The tax credits make it possible to revitalize hard-to-finance projects in community centers across the state, supporting state-mandated code retrofits like elevators and sprinkler systems that are cost prohibitive to many commercial building owners. According to Bob Grinold, who purchased the Vermont House earlier this year, the credits will make it possible to do just that. When he first purchased the historic building, he says he looked at all of his options. When the state fire marshal stepped in, Grinold says, his options were quickly narrowed. “The only thing left was to do it right, renovate the whole building, with new systems, insulation, and meet all of the fire safety and ADA requirements.”
Although the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development’s summary of the Vermont House project lists the total project cost at $232,600, Grinold says the project will likely exceed that amount. The building wasn’t badly damaged in the flood – only the basement was flooded, Grinold says – but all four floors of the inn and restaurant will need substantial renovation. The rooms will have to be gutted to install sprinkler systems, new electrical systems, and a new heating system. Grinold says the rooms are currently heated with electric baseboard. “The previous owner was paying close to $1,000 per week to heat the place in the winter,” Grinold notes.
The state tax credit is one of two grants that Grinold is counting on to help fund the project. He has also applied for a federal hazard mitigation grant that will help pay for the relocation of the building’s major systems from the basement to a point above flood level. And as the start of the project grows closer to reality, he says he’ll continue seeking any grants that are available, including those from local sources. “I haven’t approached any local sources yet,” he says. “Without the other grants, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Grinold says he plans to reopen the place as a restaurant and inn, as it has been for most of its history. But without the assistance from state and federal sources, he says the project wouldn’t be economically viable. “You’d never get your money out of it,” he says. “With the money you have to spend on it, it doesn’t make sense to buy it, let alone pay the taxes.”
Like the Vermont House, 9 West Main, also known as Cane’s Tavern, also sustained relatively minor damage from flooding, but sat vacant for more than a year after the storm. The total project cost for renovations is estimated at $125,000. Before the storm, the building included a mix of commercial and residential space.
New owner Mike O’Connor says he has cleaned the place out, and he wants to see the building become a productive part of the village scene again. “The village is decimated, and I want to bring it back,” he says. “It’s nice to see some activity, people out walking around, when you drive through the town at 8 or 9 pm, instead of nothing, no lights on.”
O’Connor’s plans for the building aren’t set in stone. He says he’s still trying to decide what to do with it, and he’s open to the idea of selling the building to the right buyer or renting it.
“The building is historic; it was the location of the first telephone office in town, and it was also the first office for the Hoot, Toot & Whistle,” he notes. “Whatever is done, I’m going to make sure it’s done right. If I do it, I’m going to do correctly, with local people who are qualified to do the work.”