With new tool, Groton looks to revitalize Thames Street, Five Corners areas

Groton — City Mayor Keith Hedrick says the city now has "another tool in our toolbox" to spur economic development on Thames Street and in the Five Corners area.

A Tax Increment Financing District, which is intended to help with economic development and revitalization, will go into effect at the end of the month for that area, City Planner Dennis Goderre said.

This is the second TIF District for Groton, after the town recently implemented one for the downtown Route 1 area.

The new district in the City of Groton encompasses an approximately 117-acre area that, as outlined in the master plan, "extends from the vicinity of the intersection of North and Bridge streets at the I-95 partial interchange and extends west and south along Thames Street to Eastern Point Road. ... As the TIF boundary extends east, it incorporates the Five Corners District (FCD) along Poquonnock Road to the vicinity of Clarence B. Sharp."

The Town Council approved this week the city and town's joint TIF District and master plan for that area, after the City Council backed it earlier this month.

According to the master plan, the city and town are seeking to grow their tax base, foster "economically diverse, long-term, stable employment opportunities," and enhance quality of life and sense of place. That includes improving pedestrian and bicycle access, creating public and cultural spaces, enhancing water-dependent uses along the waterfront, assisting businesses, revitalizing areas and establishing "new commercial spaces that offer flexibility and respond to evolving businesses and technological needs" and "housing opportunities to attract and support workforce development," the plan states.

"The vision for the District is one of a vibrant, mixed use village setting that includes offices, restaurants, retail, public gathering places, and innovation businesses with a focus of commercial on the ground floor and residential on upper stories when buildings face the street, especially within the [Waterfront Business Residential] and [Five Corners District] zoning districts," the plan states.

The TIF District allows Groton to set aside 50 percent of future tax increases over the baseline — set by the current grand list — within the district to support economic development there, Goderre said. The rest would go into the general funds.

The TIF District account then could be used to pay for public infrastructure projects in the district, from roadway improvements and signage to enhanced waterfront access on Thames Street, he said. The projects would require approval of the councils of both the town and city.

The funds also could be used to help promote redevelopment and reinvestment by property owners and developers through Credit Enhancement Agreements, Goderre said. The city and town would negotiate the agreements with developers to reimburse a portion of the developers' taxes.

Goderre said the intent of the agreements is to help offset development costs, and they could only be used if the developers demonstrate they have a specific financial need, such as costs associated with the environmental cleanup of a site.

He said the initiative helps to set a precedent for the community, businesses, and current and possible future investors that says "we’ve identified this priority area and we’re here with the tools and the programs to help support you."

Goderre said previously the laws had been written in a way that made it difficult and onerous for communities in Connecticut to implement TIF Districts, but since new legislation was passed about four years ago, communities throughout the state are now utilizing the economic development tool.

k.drelich@theday.com

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