Downtown Langley project boosted by big bucks

A nonprofit group aimed at the promotion and preservation of Langley’s small town heritage won a giant victory this week when it secured the city’s pledge to participate in a state tax incentive program.

Janet Ploof, president of the Historic Downtown Langley Main Street Association, said the move will essentially turbocharge the organization’s efforts by providing a stable source of funding.

“It’s huge,” Ploof said. “It’s $45,000 worth of huge.”

Main Street in Langley is the local version of a national association that has for more than 30 years been dedicated to the revitalization and protection of historic downtown commercial districts against the pressures posed by shopping malls and big-box businesses.

The Langley group was formed by merchants this past June with the goal of protecting the city’s small town charm, attracting new businesses and residents, and expanding customer bases through promotion and marketing strategies.

“It’s about marketing what Langley is; a small, historic, artistic town of independent people,” Ploof said.

Since it was established, the organization has received its nonprofit status, which is a required step in the process for the association’s designation as an official Main Street city.

Once designated the Langley group will be able to participate in a tax incentive program unique to Washington. It is administered through the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.

The complicated program works by allowing merchants to donate business and occupation (called B&O) taxes to an officially designated Main Street association. In return, they qualify for a 75 percent credit on their next payment.

While Langley’s association can’t begin receiving donations until it is officially designated, the city council Monday decided not to wait and voted unanimously to participate in the program once the organization’s status is hammered out.

Like merchants, the city is required to pay B&O taxes. The council’s decision was to allocate $45,000 it pays in such taxes each year from utility funds to Langley’s Main Street. With the 75 percent credit, the city’s out of pocket contribution in 2013 would be $11,250, which would be paid out of the general fund.

Councilwoman Rene Neff called the organization “an amazing resource” that is focused on the “revitalization of the downtown core.” Its efforts stand to draw to Langley not just people from South Whidbey but visitors from off island as well, she said.

“It’s a really incredible vehicle,” Neff said.

Mayor Larry Kwarsick was also supportive of the proposal, saying money that used to be sent off island will now be able to stay in the community to benefit both the town and local businesses.

“Certainly from my standpoint it’s worth that additional cost,” Kwarsick said.

Kwarsick disclosed at the meeting that he and two other council members are personally involved with Langley Main Street. He and Councilman Jim Sundberg are association members and Neff serves on the group’s board.

Neff asked if they should recuse themselves but Kwarsick said he didn’t believe it was necessary due to a lack of personal financial gain.

Ploof said she doesn’t know how long the designation process will take but that the association’s application will likely be submitted later this month. Once officially recognized, the group will use the city’s donation to hire a director, which is required by state law, set up a home base and fund events throughout the year.