Bridgton taps TIF fund for signage plan

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen agreed Tuesday it's time to start using some of the nearly a quarter of a million dollars in tax revenue that's been generated since in the five years since voters agreed to create a Tax Increment Financing District.

The board unanimously agreed to spend $9,000 from the TIF fund, which currently stands at around $265,000, to pay a graphic designer to create a "wayfinder" sign package of a common design that will brand Bridgton as a commercial business destination. The signs would be placed on the roadways in the TIF district to direct people to town services and other points of interest.

"It is important to have a cohesive sign package that is easily recognizable and emits the brand of Bridgton we are trying to communicate," said Anne Krieg, director of planning, economic and community development.

The TIF district runs along Portland Road from just before the Bridgton Twin Drive-in Theater to the corner of Main and Nulty Streets in downtown. The Community Development Committee has wanted to move forward with the signage plan for the last year, and in December began investigating the terms of the 25-year TIF district in more detail.

The committee learned that selectmen may use up to $50,000 from the district without a town meeting. When the TIF was approved by the state in 2008, the district's original assessed value was just under $42.5 million. The terms allowed the town to capture 100% of the increased assessed value from real and personal property improvements from the construction of the Hannaford supermarket and Hancock Lumber store, then estimated at just over $1 million.

Although the captured revenues may be used for larger infrastructure projects, such as sewer extensions, sidewalks and land acquisition, they also may be used for such improvements as signage, landscaping, lighting, public restrooms and marketing, Krieg noted in a memo to the board. The CDC is also recommending that selectmen consider using TIF funds to replace and add sidewalks on Portland Road.

In the narrative supporting the creation of the TIF District, it states, "The town believes, that by providing enhanced public facilities closer to the central village, it will be able to encourage new development to locate closer to the village, which will help maintain the character of the community."

Krieg told the board Tuesday she has created a list of proposed locations for the signs, and suggested the work could be done in phases. The design work will include a cost estimate for making and installing the signs, some of which could be installed this year. Additional TIF funds would be needed at that point, once the board has given their final approval, she said.

Selectman Paul Hoyt had concerns about what the final price tag would be. "Are we going to pay $9,000 to figure out we can’t afford $50,000?" he asked.

Krieg said final costs could range from $50,000 to $250,000, based on what other towns have spent on their signage programs. She said the graphic designer would work with the CDC to create a plan for "the best quality at a price the town can afford." She noted that funding for signs in the core business district that are outside of the TIF boundaries could come from Community Development Block Grant funds.

Resident Glen "Bear" Zaidman shared Hoyt's concern over spending $9,000 for design work. If Krieg has a list of sign locations, he said, why not just seek bids from several sign companies, and "put it toward signs instead of studies," he said.

Kreig said the services of a professional designer are needed to ensure the town's needs are met. The designer may, for example, want to incorporate aspects of the large "Welcome to Bridgton" signs that were installed a year or so ago after residents approved the design.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz agreed that a municipal signage program can make a big difference in how the public perceives the economic health of a community. A well-coordinated signage program is "one thing that's obvious when you go into a community," he said. "It also allows the private sector to mirror that same theme" if they so desire, thereby adding to a sense of continuity. Either that, he said, or "We can haphazardly rely on someone's great artwork."


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