Hotel developers seeking tax break

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WILTON – Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to retain legal counsel and meet in executive session next week to discuss creating a tax increment financing district.

Steve Gordon from Lafrance Hospitality Corp. met recently with Town Manager Peter Nielsen, board Chairman Paul Gooch and Alison Hagerstrom from the Greater Franklin Development Corp. to discuss a tax increment financing proposal for the proposed Comfort Inn hotel.

Nielsen told selectmen that Gordon suggested the project will add $6 million to $7 million in new property value. The company is seeking an 80 percent credit enhancement TIF agreement for the first year or two, gradually decreasing in following years for a six or seven year TIF.

With a $6 million investment and a $13 property tax rate, the property would generate $78,000 in taxes. Under a TIF agreement, a percentage of the taxes paid to the town would be returned to the company.

Selectman Irving Faunce was concerned about having enough time to discuss a TIF agreement with the town lawyer in order to explore the best options for the town and create a counter proposal.

Selectmen agreed that their intent was to go forward with it but at a slower pace than the suggested July 31 special town meeting mentioned in the proposal.

Whispering Pines Motel owner Thomas Whalen asked the board about the fairness of bringing a new project in to the town and giving a TIF agreement when it presents direct competition to existing motels.

Hagerstrom said a feasibility study done previously showed a need for additional rooms for people who aren’t staying in the area now but instead stay in Auburn or Augusta. The LaFrance Corp. is willing to work with other hotels in the area to develop tourism and bring more people who will spend money in restaurants and shops to the area, she said.

It was known that a TIF agreement would be part of the hotel development from the beginning, Hagerstrom said, but it was not brought up until decisions were made whether to locate the hotel in Wilton, Farmington or elsewhere.

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