Tax incentive program enhances vitality of downtown businesses

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership has rolled out the 2020 Main Street Tax Incentive program. Through the program, businesses can donate to the organization and receive 75 percent of their donation back as a tax credit on their state Business and Operations taxes.

The statewide program through the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation allows a business to redirect part of their state tax liability directly towards local programs in Downtown Bellingham.

“That’s the biggest benefit is having the ability to put your money into your own community,” executive director of Downtown Bellingham Partnership, Alice Clark said. “If you have to pay the Business and Operations tax anyway you might as well keep it here.”

Downtown Bellingham Partnership has been part of the Main Street Organization since 2015 and has brought in $133,000 to the community, Clark said. The program has contributed to numerous economic development projects to improve the vitality of the downtown core.

This year the funds helped to staff events such as Downtown Sounds, a mayoral forum and implement a retail strategy to enhance the shop local experience in downtown. The funds also supplied staffing for outreach and marketing of the DBP mission.

Some of the many local businesses that donated to the DBP through the Main Street program include Aslan Brewing Co., RMC Architects, The Shakedown, Daylight Properties and Faithlife Corporation.

Bellingham native and CEO of Daylight Properties, Kane Hall said Daylight Properties donated $6,700 in 2019 and plan to contribute again in 2020. They have been doing great work in Bellingham with events like Art Walk, Wine Walk, Night Market and alley beautification, Hall added.

“I am happy to see those dollars stay in the local downtown and the local economy,” Hall said. “I think it is a fantastic opportunity to help a very important organization.”

Funds raised in 2020 will support numerous programs that aim to revitalize the downtown economy and encourage the community to shop local.

With 2020 donations DBP will further explore an internship program. Interns would help audit downtown businesses to better understand how they are adapting to a changing retail market and look for ways to make them more successful.

There is also a whole section of businesses where the owners may be retiring and we want to better understand succession plans so that we proactively help them plan, Clark said.

In 2020 the DBP will be working to make their online business guide more user-friendly. We want to make sure that business owners or someone who is thinking about starting a business have all the resources they need, Clark said.

The DBP is planning to further invest in its retail strategy to help downtown businesses bring in customers. “The online consumer culture is definitely impacting retail and I think the trends that I have seen to counter that is retail has become more experiential,” Clark said.

We want to help businesses create a customer experience that goes far beyond shopping from your couch, she said. The retail strategy would audit businesses and support improvements to their street appeal with design elements such as new signage.

“A lot of times when you go into a downtown shop you enter a whole new environment with new sights, smells and interactive elements,” Clark said. “That experience-based shopping and dining really resonate with the downtown Bellingham community.”

The DBP is also partnering businesses that share alleyways to help make them more safe with better lighting and inviting murals.

To qualify for the B&O tax credit businesses must contribute to an eligible downtown organization. To receive the tax credit the donation must be approved by the Department of Revenue. The business must also be registered to file their state excise tax returns electronically.

Businesses must take the tax credit in the calendar year following the donation and can donate up to $250,000 to be eligible. Businesses can begin to apply starting January 13, 2020. The DBP is now taking pledges and is ready to help local businesses with the application process.


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