Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, in support of LD 1343
“An Act to Promote Downtown Revitalization by Creating the Locating Businesses Downtown Loan Program” April 26, 2017
Senator Volk, Representative Fecteau and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development, my name is Nancy Smith, I live in Monmouth, and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. We are a statewide non-partisan, membership-based organization whose mission is to create lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine. In our advocacy, we support legislation that improves Maine’s economy, protects its distinctive character, strengthens communities and enhances our state’s quality places. In short, we support long term solutions over short term fixes.
GrowSmart Maine strongly supports this bill because it builds on the success of an existing program by broadening the defined purpose “to assist and encourage communities to revitalize and to promote community development and enhance projects” to include a Locating Businesses Downtown loan program to assist businesses with the expenses of locating or relocating in a downtown area, village area or along a main street within the State.
As a bit of background, GrowSmart Maine supported the 2010 bond issue that funded The Communities for Maine’s Future (CMF). From the DECD website: As part of a $25,000,000 bond initiative approved by Maine voters on June 8, 2010, $3.5 million of these funds were allocated to the CMF program for the purpose of downtown revitalization in Maine communities. The program is structured very similar to the previous Municipal Investment Trust Fund and is administered through the Department of Economic and Community Development. Municipalities will be the applicants for projects supporting a public purpose, with emphasis placed on collaboration with private sector and non-profit partners. The scoring criteria will require an independent review panel to evaluate the value of the project in terms of economic development, downtown revitalization, historic preservation, tourism development, sustainable development, the degree of collaboration, and more.
Presently, all funds in the The Communities for Maine’s Future Fund have been expended, with the proceeds used to acquire, design, plan, construct, enlarge, repair, protect or enhance downtown improvements or assets. In 2011, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) awarded 11 grants totaling $3.5 million, to be matched with $11,245,325 of local funds for Communities for Maine’s Future Program downtown revitalization projects. The department received 32 applications requesting a total of $8,603,620. These competitive grant awards provided funding for projects that restore and revitalize key buildings in the community, improve pedestrian access and safety, and are catalysts for local jobs. The communities receiving awards were Bath, Belfast, Dover-Foxcroft, Eastport, Livermore Falls, Monmouth, Norway, Rockland, Skowhegan, Unity, and Winthrop. We work in many of these communities (one is my hometown) and have seen how these investments have increased activity and commerce in these downtowns.
Did you know about the Downtown Alliance of Maine, a program of GrowSmart Maine? Now accepting members!
Downtown revitalization creates jobs, makes downtowns more attractive places to live, promotes energy efficiency and helps to preserve open space. It makes good sense to add to the CMF program a dimension beyond the structures and infrastructure to assist business owners wanting to re/locate in the downtowns.
In closing I will note that GrowSmart Maine would be a willing representative for the loan review panel as outlined in this bill. Though I am unable to attend today’s public hearing, I am very willing to assist the committee through its work sessions.