Portion of TIF request approved for Newberry event center
City Commissioners voted unanimously during their May 4 meeting to approve $9,100 in tax increment financing funds for The Newberry, at 420 Central Ave., which is currently under construction and the owners plan to open in September with their first concerts in October.
The developers, STSA Partners, requested $171,200 of tax increment financing funds from the city for the renovation projects to offset costs for curb and sidewalk repair, fire suppression installation, structural repair, roof repair and ADA compliance.
City staff recommended that commissioners approve up to $9,100 specifically for reconstruction of the sidewalk, curb and construction of temporary sidewalk.
Scott Reasoner, one of the partners for The Newberry, asked commissioners to consider approving the full request since the project will address blight, infill development and increase taxes.
“It is a huge, blighted building in the middle of downtown, that we are investing our own capital and taking our own risk to fix up,” Reasoner said.
He said that downtown projects tend to generate more taxes per square foot than other areas of the city.
The project will go forward regardless of the commissioners decision on TIF funding, he said, though the full funding request would help lower their debt and allow them to hire more staff sooner rather than later.
“It makes it more likely that we succeed, gives us a little extra breathing room in our debt,” Reasoner said. “If we were going to succeed or fail or not do this project at all if we didn’t get $170,000 you should kick us out of the room, because we are going to lose our money for sure.”
Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority said they supported the full funding request and that GFDA had made $316,420 of loan commitments for the project and they were also trying to use portion of city’s CDBG revolving loan funds.
The commission previously approved a tax abatement for the project.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said he favored approving the full request and said he didn’t understand why that wasn’t allowed at this point since the developers said state law allowed TIF funds for their project.
Craig Raymond, city planner, said that the other elements of the request could be eligible under state laws regarding TIF, but those statutes required a commission approved plan or program to do so.
Right now, the other portions of the Newberry team’s request aren’t eligible under the commission’s approved Downtown Urban Renewal Plan, Raymond said.
City staff, with the Business Improvement District, Downtown Great Falls Association and Downtown Development Partnership, is working to expand the city’s TIF programs downtown to make more project eligible for those funds, but that process takes time to go through the legally required process of public notices and public hearings to adopt the new rules, Raymond and City Attorney Sara Sexe said.
Sexe said that the city’s outside TIF counsel also agrees that the other portions of the request don’t qualify for TIF funds under the city’s current plan and that if the commission doesn’t abide by its own rules, it opens itself up to issues and legal challenges.
Commissioner Mary Moe said that she supports The Newberry project and wished the city could offer more TIF funding at this point but she was “concerned about having to say no to everybody once we don’t follow our own rules.”
Tryon said using TIF funds for a project like The Newberry would show the city is serious about encouraging growth and development
“This is the exact kind of project that we need in Great Falls,” Tryon said.