DALTON — Efforts to transform a former Crane & Co. stationery mill into a multi-use business and event hub got a big boost from the state this week.
The Stationery Factory on Flansburg Avenue has been approved for a 10-year tax-increment financing (TIF) agreement designed to support business growth and job creation.
The agreement, which received unanimous support at a special Dalton town meeting on June 27, is valued at $322,000 and will go into effect July 1, 2017.
"What the TIF does is, it really gives you a bit of relief as you're growing, with the understanding that you're going to pay the full tax load once you're up and ready," said Steve Sears, co-owner of the Stationery Factory and a former employee of Crane & Co.
Sears purchased the former mill building in July 2013 with the vision of creating a hub for business and artisans in the center of town. There are currently 14 tenants in the approximately 100,000-square-foot building, including a custom furniture manufacturing shop, a brewery and an acupuncturist.
The planned improvements to the Stationery Factory will take two to three years and may exceed $2.5 million, Sears said. Some of these changes are state-mandated, including putting accessible restrooms on every floor, he said.
Other planned improvements include an entrance plaza and a redesigned first-floor event space for weddings and other functions, Sears said.
"It's like a blank canvas for an artist to put together," said John Kelly, owner of Kelly's Package Store in Dalton. "I think (Sears) is trying to put together the best mix to positively impact our community."
The agreement will enable the Stationery Factory to grow and hire people while expanding the tax base of the town through the addition of new businesses in the building, Sears said.
Tax incentive agreements are important to facilitate such a difficult process as repurposing an old mill building into a business facility, said Town Manager Kenneth E. Walto, who also chairs the Dalton Development and Industrial Commission.
For the first two years of the agreement, the town will not tax the increasing value of the property as new businesses are added and improvements are completed,
The town will continue to collect taxes based on the present assessed property value, he said.
From the third year of the agreement on, the town will collect a percentage of the taxes on the increased value of the property. After the agreement expires, the owners will pay the full amount of property taxes.
The Stationery Factory is one of 13 new projects approved this week to participate in the Economic Development Incentive Program, the state's investment tax credit program for businesses.
The project fits in perfectly with the mission of Grow Dalton, according to Holly Rogers, a member of the newly formed community effort to promote the future of the town.
"The TIF is a sensible solution to the issue of the gradual decline of Dalton as a mill town," she said in an email. "I am hopeful that new businesses will emerge and thrive in the Stationery Factory."
Sears said he sees the Stationery Factory as a vehicle to bring opportunities into Dalton that community members generally have to travel to access, such as the arts.
The Stationery Factory has the potential to be a hub for a Dalton Main Street walking, shopping and eating destination, Kelly said.
The town has had three other TIF agreements with individual businesses, including Kelly's Package Store, Walto said.
He said he hopes the Stationery Factory will enable "self-sustaining growth" as its businesses draw other businesses to town.
Although Crane & Co. is still the largest employer in Dalton, the town has to diversify its economic base to enable growth, Walto said. Economic growth is slow in Berkshire County due to the decline in manufacturing and mills, he said.
"Any opportunity that we have to increase business activity here is where we need to go," he said. "If we don't have jobs, we don't have a community."