Tax credit bill in works

Legislators hope to promote the preservation of downtowns.

Proposed tax credit incentives advocated by local legislators and the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association could jump-start the hearts of Washington’s ailing small towns.

“There’s too much of a Wal-Mart mindset that forgets the mom and pop businesses,” said state Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo. “Small businesses are what make places like downtown Bainbridge so distinctive. It’s a safe place and is a place to get to know your neighbors. “

Set for its first committee hearing today, House Bill 1273 would establish a Business and Occupation Tax credit for businesses that contribute money to downtown revitalization organizations or to the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development’s Main Street Trust Fund. 

Money would be reinvested in downtown improvements and renovations to offset the “deterioration of downtown and neighborhood commercial districts” due to competition from shopping malls, discount stores and Internet sales, the bill states.

A downtown business would receive credit for 75 percent of the value of the contribution made to a recognized local revitalization program or 50 percent of the value contributed to CTED’s trust fund, which would create the Washington Main Street Program for statewide efforts.

Appleton has added her name to the bill while state Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, has co-signed a nearly identical companion bill in the Senate.

“Imagine Winslow with no shops, no galleries,” said Rockefeller. “What would that look like? Instead of driving to the mall, we can walk downtown. It’s an alternative to the big boxes and keeps our money closer to home and means we don’t have to leave our community to get the things we need.”

Rockefeller said he’s worked closely with the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association to help introduce the bill into the Senate.

“They made a good case that this would help focus the downtown effort,” he said.

BIDA partnered with nine other downtown organizations to craft the bill over the last year.

The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation led the charge, hopeful that the bill’s push for reinvestment will expand the city’s many successful revitalization efforts.

The southeastern Washington town was gutted of many downtown shops in the late 1980s after a large shopping mall opened nearby. Walla Walla’s seen a recent resurgence with bronze sculptures, benches and playgrounds sprouting up between new shops, delis and cafes.

Other towns championing the bill, including Wenatchee, Puyallup and Port Angeles, hope giving businesses a chance to reinvest in their downtowns will spark new economic vitality.

While Winslow Way still bustles with activity and boasts a business vacancy rate of below one percent, BIDA executive director Cris Beattie said the bill could help ensure that downtown’s “charm and eccentricities” aren’t overwhelmed by a changing marketplace.

“Do we want to keep downtown vital? I think we do,” she said. “Winslow is the heart and soul of the island. But we’ve seen downtowns in the county go in other directions, and that makes me nervous.

“We don’t want to rest on our laurels.”

Beattie said a downtown Winslow business normally contributing $1,000 toward revitalization could, if the bill passes, invest $4,000 and receive about $3,000 in tax credits, keeping their overall loss at $1,000.

Money contributed by businesses could go toward a proposed facade improvement program to spruce up Winslow storefronts or toward interactive kiosks, benches, landscaping and scholarships to send business owners to economic vitality conferences.

Beattie plans to join other city associations today to urge House support of the bill.

A bipartisan coalition has already formed to back the legislation, including five Democrat and two Republicans co-sponsoring the House Bill.

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