Last updated: March 10. 2014 4:36PM - 559 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Courtesy photoA side-by-side look at Temporary Connections, one of nearly a dozen businesses in downtown Clinton that has taken advantage of a local facade improvement grant program, which is now expanding its reach.
Courtesy photoA side-by-side look at Temporary Connections, one of nearly a dozen businesses in downtown Clinton that has taken advantage of a local facade improvement grant program, which is now expanding its reach.
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A City of Clinton program that helps business owners revamp their storefronts is now expanding, in hopes of drawing more participants to an initiative from which nearly a dozen downtown properties have benefited in the past two years.

The Downtown Clinton Facade Improvement Grant Program was created in December 2011 in order to provide financial incentives to downtown business and property owners wishing to maintain and improve their facade. In that time, 11 owners have taken advantage of the program, with a total private investment of $28,500 and total public investment of $9,000 (grant funding).

To encourage further building improvements in the downtown district, the Clinton City Council has modified the grant program to provide larger grant amounts depending on the size of the project and the availability of funds. It also dedicated $10,000 to the expansion at a recent meeting.

“Good things are happening due to the facade grant program downtown,” said Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose, who also serves as the Clinton Main Street Program, which coordinates downtown projects. “We look forward to the visual changes which will be made to downtown in the coming months.”

Rose said those funds will be utilized over the next six months “in the hopes of spurring some additional facade improvements in the downtown on some bigger projects.”

Council previously requested staff expand the program’s reach to urge further investment in — and improve the look of — downtown. The additional funding, for April 1-Oct. 1, will be paid from Downtown Special Tax District funds.

Since 2011, qualifying projects have been eligible for a grant of up to $1,000 per facade on a 50/50 matching, reimbursement basis. Now, eligible project costs can be offset to a greater degree.

With the expansion of the program, projects that cost less than $10,000 in total facade expenditures by an applicant are eligible for a grant of up to the lesser of $2,500 or half the total cost. Projects that exceed $10,000 are eligible for a grant of up to 25 percent of the total facade project cost not to exceed $5,000.

The maximum amount awarded to an applicant per project is not to exceed $5,000 in a 10-year period.

Any owner or tenant of a commercial building located within the Special Downtown Tax District may apply for the Facade Improvement Grant. Tenant applicants must submit the property owner’s written permission with their application. While a facade is defined as an individual storefront or building side which faces a public right of way or is otherwise visible to the general public, Rose noted that project proposals addressing side and rear facades will be considered.

The goal, Rose said, is to prevent further deterioration of downtown commercial properties, while restoring and preserving those that have historical, architectural and aesthetic value. Eligible projects include painting, paint removal, cleaning (except sandblasting), masonry repair, removal of false facades, window repair and new awnings, among other work. Personalized signage or awnings, sandblasting and interior work are not eligible.

Among those who have taken advantage of the program since its inception include Sessoms Jewelry, Sampson Crisis Center, Temporary Connections, Member’s Credit Union/Venture Manor Realty, Tickled Pink Consignment, Colwell’s Barber Shop and Howard & Bradshaw, PLLC.

“We’ve had good success with this,” Clinton Mayor Lew Starling attested. “This helps some business owners downtown who want to paint or refurbish their store front. It allows them to do so and allows us to help a little bit.”

He said the expansion of the program was the extension of an opportunity business owners should heed.

“This is a great step toward moving that along, a great opportunity that probably won’t last forever,” the mayor implored. “This is a window that we encourage our business owners to look at.”

For example, an applicant with an eligible project totaling $800 could receive an award of $400, while an eligible project totaling $20,000 would be eligible for $5,000, sizable grant funding not previously available.

Rose said there are already projects in the queue.

“Planning staff has submitted three free facade design requests to the N.C. Main Street Center since City Council expanded this program (last Tuesday),” said Rose.

The N.C. Main Street Center in Raleigh has designers on staff who, upon requests received from any Main Street community, will prepare a free design for buildings within the downtown district of a Main Street community. Rose called it a “wonderful service” that helps property owners without the expertise of design plans.

Those wishing to participate in the grant program must meet with Planning Staff to discuss eligibility, ideas and options, then complete the application, to include design plans. The matter is then heard by the Historic Preservation Commission before moving on to a Planning staff review. Upon application review and approval, grants will be awarded on a first-submitted basis until budgeted funds are exhausted.

The applicant will pay for the total project cost up-front and then will be reimbursed upon Planning Staff inspection and approval of the completed work. Starling said he hoped the expansion of the program would translate to even more attractive buildings, which in turn could encourage more people to the downtown.

“We hope this will produce some beautiful, refurbished downtown buildings,” Starling said.

Historic signs

Hearing numerous requests from citizens for “Historic Downtown Clinton” directional signs, the distinctive brown signage seen in other municipalities will soon be popping up locally.

“Due to some interested citizens’ recommendations, we have been working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to place some Historic Downtown Clinton directional signs on some of our state roads in the city,” Rose said.

The signs are $700 each, and the Council approved spending $1,400 in downtown funds toward commencing the effort. The first two brown signs will be located on N.C. 24 (Sunset Avenue) west of U.S. 421/701 and on U.S. 701 Business (Northeast Boulevard) north of N.C. 403, near Clinton Truck and Tractor.

“We’re hoping to have more in the future, as well as have some way-finding signs as part of our branding initiative,” Rose noted. “Those are two of our more high-trafficked areas, one on one side of town, one on the other,” said Rose, who pointed to the high volume of Sunset Avenue and U.S. 701 Business. “We’re hoping to capture some of that traffic and direct them to downtown.”

For more detailed information on the Facade Improvement Grant Program, please call 910-299-4904.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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