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State renews Brattleboro’s downtown designation, seeks report in one year

BRATTLEBORO—The state has approved Brattleboro’s downtown designation for another five years.

Due to a new organizational model for Building a Better Brattleboro (BaBB), the state has also asked for a progress report in 12 months.

Brattleboro participates in the state’s downtown program through the Department of Economic, Housing & Community Development (DEHCD), which aims to support economic health and revitalization of downtowns.

Program benefits include access to tax credits, transportation grants, and training and technical services. The program requires towns have a designated downtown organization, have its designation reviewed every five years, and have a designated funding source.

Although it renewed Brattleboro’s downtown designation, the state has asked for a report from BaBB so that the DEHCD can keep abreast of BaBB’s transition to a volunteer-based model.

The board of Brattleboro’s designated downtown organization, BaBB, recently decided to change its delivery model. According to board president Donna Simon, owner of A Candle in the Night, speaking at a Selectboard meeting earlier this year, the board chose to cut the executive director’s hours from 32 to 18. Instead, she said, the board and BaBB membership will take a more active role.

“If the downtown community really wants a downtown program, it needs to step up,” said Andrea Livermore, who has served as BaBB executive director since 2007. Livermore is leaving BaBB for a position at Brattleboro Area Hospice.

The executive director’s departure marks one of many changes experienced by BaBB. Along with some turnover in board leadership, the organization’s decision to divest itself of the Robert H. Gibson River Garden building has been received by some community members as an inappropriate selling of a public space.

Budget concerns also plagued the organization. The River Garden, said Livermore, has constantly run a deficit and strained BaBB’s finances.

A portion of BaBB’s funding also comes from a special assessment tax levied on downtown property owners. This special assessment satisfies the state’s requirement for a consistent source of funding.

Although not a municipal appendage, BaBB submits its budget to the Selectboard and town meeting members which approve the amount to be raised through tax revenue. Earlier this year, the Selectboard scrutinized BaBB’s budget — heavily at times — weighing in on how money was being spent.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #197 (Wednesday, April 3, 2013).

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