TIF panel recommends spending $400k on WOW Trail

LACONIA — The committee managing the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District will recommend borrowing $1,550,000 to fund seven projects, including one section of the WOW Trail and three of the riverwalk, when the City Council meets tonight.

Tax increment financing allows municipalities to delineate TIF districts, then apply a portion of the future tax revenues that accrue from the increase in assessed value generated by new construction, expansion or renovation of property in the district to finance public improvements by either paying cash or servicing borrowings, within that district. There are two TIF districts in the city, one downtown and another in Lakeport, and a third under consideration at The Weirs.

The boundaries of the downtown TIF district enclose an area roughly ringed by Fair Street, New Salem Street, Church Street, Union Avenue and Court Street. The district included 287 properties spread over 145 acres, which together represented a total assessed value of more than $70 million when the district was established in 2004.

The committee recommends investing $275,000 to improve the gateway to downtown at the Main Street Bridge, $400,000 to build the WOW Trail between Main Street and Fair Street, $25,000 to add signage and kiosks to the riverwalk and WOW Trail, $181,000 to connect the Main Street Bridge to the riverwalk at the Landmark Inn, $121,800 to extend the riverwalk through the Walgreen's property, $200,000 to create a pocket park where Water Street joins Pleasant Street and $300,000 to carry the riverwalk from City Hall to Church Street.

In addition, the committee is expected to recommend contributing up to $35,000 toward laying a larger water line to the property formerly housing the Evangelical Baptist Church on Veterans Square to facilitate its planned conversion to a restaurant, which will require installing sprinklers in the building.

The TIF account has a current balance of $311,353. City Manager Scott Myers projects the district to add $173,687 in revenue in 2014 and an additional amount each year thereafter for a total of $4,250,212 during the next 20 years. The committee proposes to borrow $1,550,000 at an estimated interest rate of 4.249-percent over 20 years, leaving the TIF fund with a balance of $2,080,123 when the debt is retired.

The effect of these projects would be to complete the stretch of riverwalk along the north bank of the Winnipesaukee River from the Fair Street Bridge to the Church Street Bridge, except for the crossing of Beacon Street West. Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that the connection would be made when Chinburg Builders completes the commercial development planned at the Beacon Street West Condominiums. Ultimately a second stretch of riverwalk is planned to extend along the southern bank of the river and join the first at the two bridges to form a continuous loop.

The committee estimates that the cost of completing the loop by building 11 segments of the riverwalk along the south bank of the river would approach $2-million. Along with the riverwalk, the committee is considering adding an exterior staircase and security cameras to the parking garage and constructing public restrooms downtown and a footbridge across the river.