First-floor retail: Selectmen review incentive package for Main Street retailers

An incentive package to encourage retailers to set up shop on Main Street storefronts — including tax abatements, fee waivers, and discounts to other town businesses — is in the works.

The Economic Development Commission (ECDC) presented its plan to the Board of Selectmen at its June 12 meeting.

“What we’ve basically developed is a strategy that’s more the carrot than the stick,” said John Devine.

“We’ve proposed and incentive plan that would make it very worthwhile for landlords to find retail tenants.”

The package

To qualify for any of the incentives, landlords have to fill first-floor vacancies with retail shop owners — preferably within 12 months, Devine said.

The incentive package includes a three-year abatement of real estate tax, which the landlord won’t have to pay based on the percentage of the building occupied by a first-floor retail tenant.

It also includes a three-year abatement of personal property tax for the tenant, and a waiver of town planning and permitting fees.

Rebecca Mucchetti, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, suggested waiving those fees after doing some research.

“It’s not a lot of money,” said Devine. “But for a small boutique, when you’re trying to open you your business, it can add up pretty quickly — about $600.”

Another financial incentive is a six-month waiver of fees due to Downtown Ridgefield and a new business discount to participating town organizations, such as Parks and Recreation valued at $30,000.

Defining ‘retailer’

The selectmen discussed narrowing down the definition of what “retailer means” to keep the village’s New England aesthetic.

“Is it services or are they selling goods to qualify for this program?” asked Selectman Steve Zemo.

“That might be something, once we get the numbers, that we all have time to think about,” he said. “I can’t justify giving four more nail salons rebates — and they might be market-driven, but is that the vision we have for our Main Street?”

Selectman Bob Hebert agreed.

He said the purpose of the commission was “to have a Main Street with a Norman Rockwell image.”

He suggested excluding nail salons and additional exercise locations.

“We’re crafting this thing from scratch so we have a right to say whatever we feel like saying,” Zemo agreed.

Crunching the numbers

Before the incentive package becomes a reality, the Board of Selectmen agreed that it had to research how much money the town could be losing out on.

“What’s it going to cost us to come up with these incentives — and on the flip side, what is it gonna cost us if we don’t come up with something like this?” asked Hebert.

“We would like the Board of Selectmen to send our proposal to the financial budget department to give their assessment of what the cost would be because it would be difficult to walk in here and give you a snapshot in time,” said Bob DeFalco from the ECDC.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi thought that would be a good course of action.

“Maybe we collectively sit down with Al Garzi and the director of finance and come up with a scenario with respect to the various variables that need to be taken into consideration,” said Marconi.